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ERP-to-MES Link Provides Racer's Edge (sidebar)

Manufacturing managers and tool developers often talk about being so agile that they can respond quickly enough to an order for a single unit.

Rapid transfer of engine data is moving into the Formula One racing circuit.
Rapid transfer of engine data is moving into the Formula One racing circuit.

That’s exactly what a Formula One racing team is doing, with expectations that a customized solution built around SAP AG software will help them gain speed in manufacturing and on the track.

McLaren Racing, in Woking, England, is implementing a solution built around mySAP All-in-One software to produce Mercedes engines for its racer. Among other benefits, the solutions will facilitate close integration and cooperation between Mercedes-Benz’s Formula One Technical Team based in Stuttgart and McLaren Racing. The operation isn’t exactly lean, with around 500 engineers, but it is extremely agile, constantly changing the engines it designs and manufactures.

“They’re producing a maximum of 50 engines a year, and every one is different. The big challenge is to build an engine that will last two weekends without losing any power,” says Uwe Bohnhorst, managing director for Itelligence AG’s Western European operations.

Itelligence is facilitating the implementation, which began in August 2004, with plans to have the software running this fall when the Formula One racing season begins. Though the team is working in a very specialized field, the benefits of linking operations together are similar to those described by users in more conventional applications.

“The software’s integration with the company’s computer-aided design applications will help to ensure high availability and consistency of bill of materials, CAD drawings and technical documentation,” says Martin Whitmarsh, Formula One chief executive officer at West McLaren Mercedes.

Since the Formula One racing market isn’t quite large enough to spark creation of a development project, the team built its own program using different components from tools written for high tech, engineering and automotive companies. Though Mercedes uses some portions of the Formula One program to manufacture engines for its conventional on-highway vehicles, the racing team’s tools are focused on rapid response to changes. That’s a dramatic departure from volume programs designed to make sure all Mercedes engines built for commercial vehicles are exactly like the others rolling off the line.“The racing side is more engineering driven than the mass production application,” says Bohnhorst.

Close integration among the members of the design, production and information technology (IT) departments with the technicians who travel the racing circuit brings benefits for the racing team, as well as the production team. It will be far easier for maintenance technicians to determine when to replace components.

“Every part in the engine is tracked, some are only allowed to go for a certain number of miles,” notes Bohnhorst.

Though the program is used to produce very few end units, it is still handling fairly large amounts of data. “We’re able to give the engineering and trackside teams reliable, real-time information on the life-cycle status and performance of more than 5,000 engine components,” says Whitmarsh.

See the story that goes with this sidebar: Collaboration Improves Efficiency

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