The carmaker Henry Ford once said that, “Auto racing began five minutes after the second car was built.” Adaptability and automobiles go hand-in-hand, but precision parts manufacturer Don Schumacher Motorsports (DSM) has taken this idea into pole position. The company is winning on the racetrack, was awarded the ISO 9001:2015 and has expanded into industries as diverse as aerospace and defense — all within the last two years. But it needs the right machine tools to support these objectives, which is why it turned to Sandvik Coromant.
In September, Matt Hagan gave Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) its 350th victory in the final round of the Lucas Oil National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Summernationals at the Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Indiana, US.
Hagan raced to victory in his drag racer, or Funny Car, which can race from zero to 330 miles per hour in less than 3.7 seconds. His win also happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of company founder Don Schumacher’s own legendary victory at Indianapolis in 1970.
Today, DSR has cemented its position as one of motorsports’ elite teams. All four of DSR’s Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat drivers have claimed at least two victories throughout the nine races that have taken place in 2020, so far. DSR is the only team in NHRA history to have gone undefeated for 12 consecutive races in a single category, dating back to October 2019. Previously, DSR set the consecutive win record in a single class at 10 races during the 2017 season with the same line-up of drivers.
Meanwhile, DSR has also been notching-up victories behind the scenes, specifically at DSM Precision MFG, also located in Brownsburg. A recent milestone was awarded in 2018, when the company acquired the ISO 9001:2015 certification in recognition of its quality management and sustainability initiatives. The benchmark also demonstrates that the company’s operations fit-in with United Nations (UN) sustainability goals.
The shop’s other win has been a victory against the challenges of COVID-19, of sorts. In just two years, the machine shop — founded in 2005 solely to support the company’s drag race program — has successfully diversified into a range of new sectors. They include defense, aerospace and commercial applications.
Diversification is a real goal for manufacturers in 2020. Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ (PwC) recent COVID-19: What it means for industrial manufacturing recommends that companies expand into new industries, and take advantage of fresh revenue streams, either because they are forced to by defunct markets or because they simply spot an opportunity.
Now, says Chad Osier, Vice President at DSM, the Brownsburg machine shop is the only of its kind in the Midwest that offers such a high degree of precision engineering, for such a wide a range of sectors.
“We’re all racers at heart,” explains Osier. “Racers are engineers, and precision engineering extends to everything we do. This expertise and the right tools allow us to hit the required levels of precision and quality when building nitro blocks for drag racing that produce 11,000 horsepower.
“Now we can bring that same precision to bear on competitive quality and scalable solutions for the defence, aerospace, commercial, motorsports and automotive industries.”
Henry Ford would surely be proud. But how has DSM achieved all of this in such a short time, and what can other manufacturers learn from it? As it turns out, a large part of the answer lies in DSM’s choice of machine tools. The name of their chosen tooling partner has adorned the side of Hagan’s Funny Car since the 2017 racing season, and can now be seen on the Top Fuel dragster raced by Hagan’s teammate, Tony Schumacher — son of Don Schumacher. The sponsor is Sandvik Coromant, co-branded with the machine manufacturer Okuma America.
“We’re obviously in the business of racing,” says Osier, “but we are also in the business of making profit. Tool wear is a big part of that. We want to make sure we’re minimising as much waste and scrap as possible. The tooling and equipment we use from Sandvik Coromant goes hand-in-hand with how we operate.”
Racing to precision
DSM’s relationship with Sandvik Coromant goes back to 2012. Successful projects include helping the customer to move its production of aluminum engine blocks in-house. This has enabled it to produce more precise and better-performing components that win victories at events like the Gatornationals.
DSM then sought help from Sandvik Coromant with its objective to become, what Osier describes as, a “full-on kind of general engineering machine shop.” That is, one that can build project products ranging from small specialty fasteners and the right-mass nitro engine blocks, to bespoke aluminum parts for defense and aerospace. From rapid prototyping all the way to mass production.
“When relying on an outside partner for anything, there is a question of trust,” says Osier. “Sandvik Coromant has consistent products that are high quality and long-lasting. It offers the engineering support to help us tackle any project.”
Brian Flores, Channel Manager for the Eastern United States at Sandvik Coromant, agrees: “We help DSM in several ways, from supporting the local sales engineers to helping DSM’s automotive specialists and process improvement experts. That includes working closely with its team of specialist programmers to develop precision parts like piston heads or engine blocks out of tough-to-machine solid aluminum billets.”
“These machining processes are very complex,” explains Flores. “Sandvik Coromant’s tooling is used in the lathes and mills we use, made by Okuma America, which allow us to get the machined parts up to the necessary quality standards. This is where harder-wearing tools prove critical.”
For these applications, DSM relies on tools like the CoroMill 390 shoulder milling cutters designed for versatility, with ramping capability for mixed production. With light-cutting insert geometries, the high-performance CoroMill 390 is designed for low cutting forces and vibration-free machining, for secure milling with all materials.
These properties are particularly advantageous when machining aluminum, which has a tendency to move if aggressive, deep radial cuts are used at high speeds — because of the high stress levels of the material. Sandvik Coromant works extensively with DSM’s CAD designers.
“It really comes down to quality and attention to detail, whether it’s a drawing for an engine block or an aerospace part,” says Osier. “That’s what ensures we have the engineering expertise to deliver the quality that the aerospace industry needs. We also need the right equipment and tools to do that.”
That’s the quality and precision taken care of, but what about sustainability? To meet the ISO 9001:2015 standard, a company must demonstrate its capabilities in two major areas. First, its ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customer and applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.
Second is enhancing customer satisfaction by applying the system. For the shop floor, this is inherently linked to DSM’s quality management system, but it also equals sustainability.
For this, DSM also makes use of the CoroMill 790 cutter for ISO N materials, designed for high precision work. The CoroMill 790 cutter is a “super remover” for which effective chip removal is integral to machining product quality.
“We look for tools that will produce consistent and repeatable parts, and minimise our scrap and our cycle time,” explains Osier. “So, the biggest thing I get on sustainability is how we’re able to maximise our output and reduce our material scrap in automated processes.”
“This is a real challenge when manufacturing aluminum racing engines,” Flores adds. “The amount of material removed is really quite amazing. It requires very intense and specific programming
techniques and paths. That’s where I believe Sandvik Coromant really shines, in helping DSM to find the most productive way to approach these parts.”
As a high-tech machine shop, DSM understands that tool wear goes beyond the tools and includes effective monitoring to use them to their fullest.
To achieve this, DSM uses Sandvik Coromant’s CoroPlus Machining Insights platform, an expansion of the company’s CoroPlus suite of connectivity software. The platform is designed to give manufacturers greater visibility of CNC machine tools and machining processes. Furthermore, the shop was able to integrate the system seamlessly into its existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.
“We are able to track the performance of the tooling, which is also important,” said Osier. “The tooling and equipment work hand-in-hand with our automation and technology.
This high-tech approach doesn’t extend only to tooling but also to training. Since 2016, Sandvik Coromant has operated a 5,000 square foot dedicated training facility on DSM’s shop floor, which symbolises the relationship between the two companies. Trainees gain hands-on experience of modern machining, tools and techniques and DSM hosts Sandvik Coromant’s customers in the regional area.
“It’s an excellent partnership and mutually beneficial for both companies — including as we reach further into the aerospace, automotive and defense industries,” says Osier. “It has also exposed Sandvik Coromant to our own large Tier 1 customers so they can experience first-hand the benefits and value of Sandvik Coromant products.”
Osier estimates that DSM’s production is now divided roughly 50-50 between its racing obligations and its general precision engineering contracts. The manufacturer will continue to build on this going forward, including investing in 3D metal printers. It also plans to expand its training and education center into new industries beyond racing and automotive. This includes adapting its training facilities for COVID-19 and exploring the possibilities of Webex conferences or videos.
“We’re always looking for new ways to satisfy our customers and sponsors,” says Osier. “The ISO 9001:2015 accreditation has really opened doors for us and, going forward, we will take this further by acquiring the AS9100 standardised quality management system for the aerospace industry. This is very much an extension of the ISO 9001:2015, in terms of sustainability and is made possible by Sandvik Coromant’s continued support.”
“Sandvik Coromant has consistent products that are at the top of the market and it offers the engineering support to allow us to tackle any project,” says Osier.
“Precision and quality are critical in everything we do, and we use these Sandvik Coromant tools to meet those precision needs, both in the motorsports industry and the rest of the industries we work in,” explains Osier. “Their high quality and long-lasting tools and support deliver sustainability for us. Without that, we can’t meet our obligations to our customers.”
Auto racing may have begun five minutes after the second car was built. But, with its continuing entrepreneurial flair, the addition of ISO 9001:2005, and Sandvik Coromant’s tooling solutions, it looks as if DSM will continue leading the race in a range of industries for many years to come.
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