Pit Stops and Lean
As I continue my mini-series on NASCAR leading up to the Daytona 500, I am going to share some thoughts on Pit Stops. Just probably not in the same way you have heard it before.
Most people who have been involved with Lean for any length of time have been exposed to the Pit Stop and the Pit Crew as an example for a SMED/Changeover activity. It’s a fantastic real world example of the value of planning, organizing and choreographing a changeover. Honestly, I don’t know what I could write about that aspect of the pit stop that hasn’t already been written by somebody else better than I could. I’m much more interested in a bit of strategic change that I’ve noticed in the races that has some applications as well.
The aspect of the pit stop that I have taken a big interest in lately is the strategy around multiple changes happening within the same stop. There are really two main activities in a pit stop, changing tires and adding fuel. All else being equal, newer tires will allow the cars to be faster and, at 4 miles per gallon or so there is a huge need for fuel. It takes about 6 seconds to change tires on one side of the car and 13 seconds to change tires on both sides of the car. It’s about 6 seconds to add half of the fuel capacity and 13 seconds to fill it completely. It becomes visible pretty fast that the times match up closely to provide several combinations. For example, If I know that I need a half tank more fuel to finish the race, then I can put 2 tires on and get two improvements in pretty much the same time. Or if I know I have to replace the tires, I can make sure the gas tank is filled up at the same stop and maybe not come in to stop as many times.
As last season went on and I watched the different strategies play out, my mind began to wander back to the plant. With changeovers being a necessary fact of life, it’s a given to try to minimize the amount of lost time for the change. But, if the changeover window is getting about as small as your resources allow, maybe the question shifts from squeezing out time to doing more in the time that you are down. Can you bring in additional resources to do smaller PM items? Is there some opportunity to utilize that idle machine operator time for training, housekeeping, or administrative tasks? I have been in plants before and asked what work the operators were doing or could be doing while machines cycled. I haven’t spent nearly as much time asking what they could do when the machine isn’t running. There is potentially a gold mine of options to design our processes as we take smaller steps towards the ideal of zero downtime for changeovers.