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Motorsport Drives RFID Use in Race Pits

Claire Swedberg | RFID Journal

Several racecar drivers and teams are employing and sponsoring a solution from Surgere to track the performance of tires or other components by monitoring how often each part passes RFID readers.

Read the Full Article in RFID Journal May 18, 2022 - Several motorsports teams and drivers have launched an RFID-based solution to manage the equipment within their cars. The system, provided by Internet of Things (IoT)-based supply chain technology company Surgere's Motorsports division, enables them to track the usage and replacement of tires or other components during practice and races, for the purpose of regulation compliance and safety.

Surgere is lining up sponsorship contracts with racecar driver Parker Thompson's JDX racing team, which is testing Surgere's RFID Pit technology, while another sponsorship comes from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL), which competes in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA). RLL is an auto racing team co-owned by Bobby Rahal, a 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner, as well as talk show host David Letterman and businessman Mike Lanigan. The technology that the company is testing and sponsoring is intended to help teams, drivers and manufacturers understand the miles and wear and tear of parts, both in real time and historically.

Surgere, an IoT supply chain solutions company in Green, Ohio, offers its Interius software and RFID technology to capture data about goods moving throughout supply chains, primarily for the automotive industry. The company's technology has been used for nearly a decade, and its Motorsports division opened as a result of the problems Surgere was able to solve for the automotive world, according to Michael Wappler, Surgere's business development VP for motorsports. The company leveraged the expertise it gained in the RFID tracking of automotive parts to focus on a solution for the racing industry. The division first began offering a motorsport solution at the Barber Motorsports Park races in Birmingham, Ala.

RFID for Regulations Compliance

The solution includes the cloud-based Interius software suite, which tracks tires used by race cars and collects data automatically regarding when each tire is installed and replaced during or between races. Typically, a tire can be replaced approximately four times during an entire weekend event. This is dictated by regulations at the race circuit governance level, Wappler explains. By tracking each tire used on every vehicle, he says, the system not only ensures compliance with regulations, thereby saving manual efforts, but also can provide safety information.

Without the technology, the process by which teams ensure they are in compliance is manual, says Robert Fink, Surgere's chief growth officer. The motorsport racing circuit's goal, he notes, is "to make sure that no team gains a competitive advantage by exceeding the rules, whether intentionally or unintentionally." Teams are responsible for tracking and reporting how many tires are consumed per event or race, and that information is commonly recorded and tracked via a spreadsheet.

Surgere built a solution to monitor and track part consumption by automating data collection. The system captures digital details, and the information can be shared with the governing bodies for compliance assurance purposes. In addition, the system can ensure the safety of a vehicle and its components for the driver, and it serves a benefit for component makers as well, by providing performance data about car parts. This includes how often they need to be replaced for optimal safety and performance.

The solution leverages a passive UHF RFID tag on each component (thus far, the parts being tracked are mostly tires), with a unique ID number encoded on it that is linked to details about that tire in the Interius software. A fixed Impinj R 420 or R700 reader is installed in the pit, and maintenance and parts replacement take place during and between races. Since the solution reads tags in the pit, it can be used during practice, qualifying rounds and actual races.

Reading RFID Tags in the Pit

When a car enters the pit, the crew goes over the parts and makes changes, sometimes within a matter of seconds, such as replacing tires. As the vehicle then leaves the pit at high speed, a fixed reader captures the tag IDs of its tries. Thus, if any tires have been changed, the new tag IDs will indicate tire replacements, and the data is updated for that vehicle to reflect the use of a new tire or other component. The readers can capture tag reads at a typical rate of speed around 35 miles per hour, which cars reach at the point that they pass the antennas. Pit crews thus do not need to write down details about tires that have been removed or installed.

The collected data provides more than merely compliance verification, however, as teams can use the information to improve vehicle performance. For one thing, Fink says, the teams are interested in understanding how many laps each component of a vehicle has on it, "to make sure that I'm either doing preventative maintenance on time or contemplating a full part switch-out to make sure the car is performing optimally." That data, he explains, can offer a potential competitive advantage over other cars against which a team or driver is competing.

When it comes to safety, Wappler says, a primary goal for every team is ensuring that they do not put their drivers in an unsafe vehicle. "They want to make sure that they're very safe," he states, "but also they want to make sure they understand whether their consumption meets what their expectations are."

Manufacturers Leverage Performance Analytics Data

The data provides value to tire manufacturers, the company reports, and manufacturers of tires and other components consider the motorsport arena to be an exploratory environment in which products can be aggressively tested. If, for instance, a tire must be replaced after a given number of miles at specific speeds in order to ensure optimal performance, that information can translate to product quality. Moreover, it helps companies produce high-performing tires for standard vehicles.

Surgere's clients include not only race teams, but also tire and other component manufacturers in the United States, Mexico and Canada. The company is currently in conversations with several potential customers in Europe as well. In some cases, tire manufactures are already tagging their tires, and the Surgere solution can leverage those existing tires to provide onsite tracking for motocross racing.

Parker Thompson used the technology in several races this year, including at the Sebring International Raceway in March, and at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in April. With its IoT solutions for supply chain management, Fink reports, Surgere has more than 40 million tags in use. "I think, ultimately, we really expect this to blossom into an official technology used by a wide variety of supporting series events," he adds. There are several other contracts in the works, he says, which cannot yet be named.

Key Takeaways:

  • Surgere's RFID system can benefit race teams and drivers, as well as tire manufacturers.

  • The technology's use is expanding in North America, with conversations now underway in Europe.

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