Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Autotrader Ford, celebrates by placing the Winner’s Sticker on his car after winning his third straight race, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series SouthPoint 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sept. 16, 2018. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
SportTechie’s new series features the views and opinions of the athletes who use and are powered by technology. As part of this series, NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski discussed the advanced manufacturing that he says will change the world.
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NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski won the circuit’s 2012 championship and, after three straight race wins earlier this month, sits second in Monster Energy Cup standings. The 34-year-old native of Rochester Hills, Mich., drives the No. 2 Ford Fusion for Team Penske and has 27 career victories on the top circuit.
As well as racing cars, Keselowski also ran his own truck team, Brad Keselowski Racing, for a decade before shutting the operation down in August 2017. At the time, he indicated plans for “a new business endeavor” and touted his faith in new manufacturing technologies. Since then, he’s begun to build Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing and recently shared his vision for the new enterprise with SportTechie.
His Father’s Race Shop
“My early exposure [to manufacturing] was through my family—my dad, my uncle. They built race cars. And living in Detroit, which is already a car area, they also were a part of low volume engineering and manufacturing work for the ‘Big Three.’ I grew up watching my dad and my uncle build their own race cars and do all those things and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. I just fell in love with the craftsmanship required. And then, of course, I love the fact that they didn’t just build a race car. They went on the weekend, and they raced it.”
“I still remember the first time I built a part that went on a car and how proud I was of that. It was a little bracket that held part of the body work on the car. It was nothing super critical, but it was something that had to be built. It was easy, and my dad let me paint it and helped teach me how to fabricate it. That was so cool for me. I was 10 or 11 years old. I naturally fell in love with painting things. That was where it took me—I love to paint things. My dad used to joke that I would be a good graffiti artist because I loved the spray cans. I was also the trash man and the janitor, so I also mopped floors. That was not a fun experience, but that was part of the learning.”
The Impact of Engineering on Racing
“My interest evolved a lot once I became a race car driver and got to see all the really cool tools—the engineering and manufacturing tools that are out there in the workspace. Seeing the high-tech machine shops, seeing the engineers use CAD to design cars, and then seeing, of course, the bigger teams that have dozens of people working on the car, hand-fabricating it. I think my interest developed through that process. Over time, I learned that, every time we made an advancement in engineering and manufacturing, my cars were faster. And I liked being fast.”
“What I learned over time was that I was a part of the feedback loop. The feedback loop in motorsports is basically, you have a driver that gives feedback on the car, which some would say means I get paid to complain. Then that goes to engineering, who tries to ratify whatever issue it might be with a solution. And then to manufacturing who would produce that solution. And then to the racetrack where you would, effectively, test it. I was a key part of the feedback loop, and I found that the better feedback I gave, the faster my cars were.
“It’s kind of like being a wide receiver on a football team. The better your car is, it’s like the better pass is from the quarterback. You still have to catch it, and you still have to run with it. But a pass that hits you in stride is always going to be better than one that leads you up the middle in between two linebackers about to drill you.”
Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)
“I learned about additive from Joe Hoffman who ran the manufacturing department at Team Penske. He left to start his own company called FiberWorks, which is an engineering and manufacturing facility for carbon fiber—basically all the really high end stuff, and of course we use this on our race cars. I started doing internal research because I had so much respect for Joe. If he said that, I wanted to hear him out.”
First Impression of 3D Printing
“Skeptical. Cynical. Additive manufacturing has been around for a while, but it’s been in plastic. There’s something to be said for printing something in plastic. The reality is, plastic parts don’t very often go on race cars or spaceships and things of that nature. There’s only so much you can do with plastic. Plastic is great for a desk toy. It’s not great for an engine of a race car. I had thought of additive manufacturing off the plastic brand, per se. There’s a metal component that’s much newer and has much less maturity that is really the revolutionary topic in my mind.”
Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing
“I believe firmly in manufacturing, and I believe firmly that additive manufacturing is going to improve the human experience in a significant way. What that’s going to be is hard to say. Metal additive manufacturing, to me, I don’t want to oversell it, but it feels like the new Internet. It’s the technology that’s going to take us not just to space, like we’ve been, but space like going to Mars. It’s the technology that’s going to make us live healthier and longer. If you look at some of the medical tools that are out there, they are made possible only by 3D printing out of metal.
“It’s the technology that’s going to enable things like nuclear fusion because of the doors it opens in cooling and exotic materials that were previously closed have somewhat prohibited nuclear fusion from developing. This technology is potentially going to open those doors. And that’s just the start. We don’t know how big it’s going to be. We’re limited by our own imagination, much like the early days of the Internet.”
The Potential for Additive Manufacturing
“With additive manufacturing, first off, you can use exotic materials with less economical restrictions because you have less waste. Most manufacturing processes are subtractive, which means you start with a block of something and you whittle it down into something. When you start to get into high-end precious metals, you can’t have waste. Waste is too expensive. With that in mind, this process has much less waste, which makes that more economical. And a lot of these high-end materials are toxic, so it reduces exposure to that, which opens more robust manufacturing of exotic materials.
“Probably the most critical thing that manufacturing opens up is unique designs. Because you’re printing, which means you’re building rather than subtracting, you can build pieces with passageways. And not that you couldn’t build pieces with passageways before—you could—but more advanced passageways with additive. Which means you can build lighter structures of high strength through lattice design works. You can build structures that [transport] fluids in advanced ways, which increases thermal management and fluid-control management.”
Use Cases for This Technology
“There’s one case study that’s probably the best case study that exists. And that’s the GE Leap fuel nozzle. Essentially it costs less, it operates to tighter tolerances, it has less inventory so you have less waste, and it’s more reliable. All of that is a lot of jargon but, to me, one of the coolest parts is they were able to increase their jet engine performance and they can now burn less fuel. If you fly on a plane that has a GE Leap engine in it, you’re burning less fuel, which means you’re better on the environment and you can still travel at high speeds.
“Medical is really interesting to me. Every human body is unique, and in manufacturing, we’re caught up in one-size-fits-all. Right now, if you become seriously injured and require a skeletal implant, it used to be that, when you would get surgery, your doctor might go up to a wall and there would be a handful of options. He would grab one off the wall and say, ‘This looks like it’s about your size.’ Well, the human body doesn’t work that way. Nobody’s one size. We’re all slightly different. Additive creates the possibility—and it already has, in this example—of printing specific to your body. Right now, if you break your hip and you’re with a good doctor at least, you’re going to get a Stryker 3D-printed hip replacement. They’re going to scan your body, and they’re probably going to print it perfect to your size. ”
Technology Expertise in the Job Market
“There’s a reason why 3D printing hasn’t existed for the last few centuries. It’s incredibly difficult to do. Incredibly difficult. It’s also super important. The type of people that are going to run these machines and are going to run these efforts right now are Ph.D.’s. It takes an extremely educated workforce to operate this equipment.
“There’s going to be a wave of high-end jobs coming up for this sector. We’re looking for people that are four-, six-, eight-year college grads because the technology is hard to do and requires an advanced understanding. You might still call them blue-collar jobs, but they’re really high-end blue-collar jobs. It’s almost a new color of manufacturing job.”
Brad Keselowski reviewed this content before publication.