While NASCAR racing may conjure images of oil, grease, sweat and grime, the professional fabrication shops that produce and maintain these high-performance race cars are spotlessly clean and equipped with advanced composites and metal fabrication equipment. Case in point: Toyota-backed Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR, Cornelius, N.C.) recently completed a 140,000-ft2 (13,000m2) fabrication shop and increased its manufacturing capabilities, including, says Dr. Eric Warren, MWR VP and technical director, the purchase of a Jet Edge (St. Michael, Minn) 3-axis waterjet cutting system to cut and trim parts for the approximately 56 Toyota race cars that MWR manufactures each year for its four racing teams. The system, a 4-ft by 8-ft (1.2m by 2.4m) high rail gantry with a 50-hp, 60,000-psi iP60-50 intensifier pump, has two abrasive cutting heads on a spreader bar. With its digital readout for multihead positioning capability, the system eliminates manual measurements. It also is equipped with a pneumatic drill for pre-piercing composite materials that might otherwise delaminate in the waterjet. SigmaNEST CAD/CAM nesting software developed by SigmaTEK Systems LLC (Cincinnati, Ohio) is included, as are closed-loop filtration and abrasive removal systems supplied by Ebbco (New Baltimore, Mich.) and a bulk abrasive storage system from GMA Garnet (USA) Corp. (Houston, Texas).
Among the parts cut with the waterjet, says Warren, are composite ducts, foam materials, crush panels, support panels and — especially time-sensitive — polycarbonate front splitter panels (see photo). Required by NASCAR for down force, the latter need replacement several times during each race and can be waterjet trimmed in less than 13 minutes. “Before the Jet Edge system, we were outsourcing our cutting, which took a lot of time and money,” he explains. “The precision, repeatability and accuracy ... is exactly what we need in this business.”