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Learn Best Practices From Pit Stops

Jun 15, 2022 | Public | 0 comments

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For technologies and/or any high-tech equipment to reach its full potential, your entire team needs to foster a culture of discipline and display a tenacious desire to improve the outcome.

It’s Sunday, May 8, 2022, (air temperature is 86 F but feels like 97 according to the weather and me). The crowds are getting loud, engines are roaring, and you can feel the excitement. I’m sitting in front of the start/finish line and in perfect view of many of the pit crews. It’s the first Miami Grand Prix at the Miami International Autodrome in Miami Gardens, FL, and the fifth of 23 races in the 2022 Formula One World Championship.

Historically, the average pit-stop times in the past 55 years have decreased from 45 sec. in 1965 to 20 sec. in 1970, 8 sec. in 1985, 4.2 sec. in 2010, and 2.5 sec. in 2020 (The Red Bulletin, May 7, 2022, distributed at the race). Noted also, was that Red Bull holds nine out of the ten records for fastest pit stop. The eventual winner of today’s race, Max Verstappen (driving for Red Bull), has the current record for the fastest pit stop at 1.82 sec. 

I’ve lectured for decades on engaged teams, planned maintenance, precision maintenance, standardized work, lean principles (including standardized processes, visual aids, reducing waste), and design for reliability and maintainability. Watching the numerous pit stops in the span of two hours made all of these concepts come to mind. The winding racing course was set up around the Hard Rock Stadium, specifically for this race. It was 3.636 mi. long, requiring 57 laps to complete the prescribed 207-mile race. The speed of pit stops often determines the winner. 

As stated in The Red Bulletin, “When an F1 driver wheels into the pit lane, a high stakes and dangerous dance begins. Success is measured in millimeters and milliseconds. The goal: Remove and replace all four tires in the time it takes to read this sentence.” Second place driver, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari finished only 3.786 sec. behind Verstappen and third place driver, Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, trailed Leclerc by a mere 0.657 sec. Pit-stop times throughout the race, no doubt, played a significant role in those positions.

Too often in factory maintenance, I observe many seemingly inconsequential things done incorrectly. Spread over a large factory, these items don’t appear significant. When you only have a few seconds to do the entire job (pit stop), small mistakes are instantly obvious and consequential. Cumulatively, it’s “death by a thousand cuts.” The key to success is, of course, teamwork. Here are parameters to keep in mind:

• Team-member engagement: Each person must know what to do (understanding), how to do it (skills), and be willing to do it repeatedly in a precise manner (attitude).

• Team-member communication/coordination: Just as important is the timing, precision, and coordination of each member’s movement toward fulfilling their collective roles. All wasted movements must be removed so it’s a team solution with each person contributing toward the goal.

• Work-process standardization: This is the current best practice. It’s expected that the practice will be followed each time so that the function a team member performs is predictable and repeatable. This does not change until all agree on an improvement. The Red Bulletin describes the role of each pit-stop crew member in great detail. Click here for more details.

• Visual aids: These are a vital part of supporting and carrying out standardized work. 

• Planning and scheduling: “What if” scenarios can suggest fixes for items that could go wrong. 

• Design for maintainability: As is standard pit-stop practice, is everything easily accessible? Has it been designed for quick disassembly and assembly? Have tasks been error proofed? Have the design-for-maintainability concepts been utilized? Take the high-tech process and break it down into workable solutions. The best solution is typically the simplest one that works.

• Lean/continuous improvement: Continually remove waste from the process. Remember the seven forms of waste using the COMMWIP acronym: Correction, Over-production, Motion, Material movement, Waiting, Inventory, and Process. In racing this means no time for adjustments/rework during the stop. It needs to be right the first time. Precision and reliability are as important as speed, yet they continue to drill better practices into muscle memory and get faster.

Back to the race. Lap 41, Lando Norris (McLaren) collided with Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) and crashed, which brought out the safety car. The accident allowed Charles Leclerc to close the gap with Verstappen and make the final 10 laps exciting. Max Verstappen held the lead and was handed his winning trophy by Miami Dolphins quarterback (1983 to 1999), Dan Marino.

There’s much that can be learned by an F1 pit stop, but especially the tenacity for each member to work toward enabling greater team competitive advantage. Keep in mind the words of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” EP

Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at [email protected].

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