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NASCAR Tech Grad Supports PPE Production During COVID-19 Crisis

UTI Profile Image Universal Technical Institute Apr 20, 2020 ·

NASCAR’s Research & Development center in North Carolina is the driving force behind the safety, competition and innovation of all things NASCAR racing. This state-of-the-art facility houses five 3D printers that are typically used for prototype components, proof-of-concept pieces and wind tunnel testing.

But when racing came to a halt in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, a group of NASCAR engineers began to think of ways these machines could be used to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers.

Among these was Hank Fowler—NASCAR Tech graduate and Senior Coordinator of Powertrain Testing and Machining for NASCAR. While Hank and his team never anticipated anything like this happening, they were quick to step up and volunteer their time and resources to make a positive impact.

Keep reading to learn all about Hank’s inspiring story and the work NASCAR is doing to support the healthcare industry during this pandemic.

Meet Hank Fowler

Hank started his career in automotive manufacturing in Toledo, Ohio. He grew up in a family of NASCAR fans and knew he eventually wanted to pursue a career in the racing industry. He had training in manufacturing, but wanted to get more into the performance side of things.

This eventually led Hank to NASCAR Technical Institute, where he began his training in 2004. Throughout his program, he grew close with his classmates and enjoyed the hands-on learning environment.

Hank went to NASCAR Tech on a mission to learn as much as he could to prepare for his career. “I knew that if I was to make something of it, I had to really buckle down and do what I had to do to get there,” he shares. He graduated in February of 2006 and in April, started his career with NASCAR.1

From NASCAR Tech to the R&D Center

Hank started at NASCAR’s Research & Development center as a Dyno Operator. In this role, he was responsible for operating the engine dynos and working in the machine shop. According to him, the transition to NASCAR was easy thanks to his training and prior work experience.

Hank worked his way up in the organization and today, is the Senior Coordinator of Powertrain Testing and Machining. He spends a majority of his days in the shop, which is where most of the technical work gets done.

Hank’s primary responsibilities include maintaining and operating their two dynamometer cells, where they measure engine performance for all of NASCAR series as well as the IMSA sports car series. They also do all of the balance of performance testing for the IMSA series.

Another key part of Hank’s role is overseeing the machine shop, which is where NASCAR’s 3D printers are housed. He handles anything from prototypes of inspection tools, to gauges for measuring car components, to actual parts for safety testing or dynamometer testing. Essentially, any type of testing or fixturing they need takes place in the shop.

Stepping Up During the COVID-19 Crisis

At the beginning of this year, the R&D center acquired three new 3D printers. As the coronavirus pandemic became more serious and the industry began to shut down, Hank and his team started thinking of ways they could help using the equipment they had.

Upon doing a quick Google search, they found that there was a shortage of PPE, and there were already people starting to make equipment with their 3D printers at home.

Several NASCAR employees had connections to the healthcare industry, so they reached out to see what the need was. “We found out the need was a lot greater than what we anticipated,” Hank shares.

Hank and his team found a design for a face shield they could print relatively quickly and easily. They worked with the healthcare professionals they knew to perfect the design so it met their standards, and since then, they’ve been printing around 18 hours a day and have delivered over 500 units to facilities across the country.

A Team Effort

The face shields the team at NASCAR are making consist of three parts: a headband, a plastic shield piece, and a bottom piece that holds its shape.

The headband and bottom pieces are 3D printed, and the plastic sheeting is cut from a roll of material donated by Piedmont Plastics. Hank shared that some team members have been taking this material home and having their families help to cut out the plastic portion using their template.

 

 

Once the individual components are created, the face shields are assembled, boxed, and shipped wherever they’re needed—whether it’s hospitals, pediatric centers or municipalities. Since they’ve started, word has gotten out and the requests have come rolling in.

“We’re trying to support anyone who calls us with a need the best we can,” Hank shares.

So how is all of this amazing work being accomplished? Right now, there are about 10 people volunteering their time at the NASCAR facility. The team is on a work at home schedule, but they worked with a medical liaison to develop a safety protocol for them to be able to come into the R&D center and work safely.

Each individual works in 3-hour shifts throughout the week to keep production moving along. With the support of NASCAR providing the facility and materials, they’ve been able to remain on a constant cycle and are printing around 30 pieces a day.

“It’s only the right thing to do. We have the means and equipment, so we’re trying to help in any way we can,” Hank shares. Being able to play a role in protecting the country’s healthcare workers has been the driving force for Hank and his team to volunteer.

The Critical Role of Technicians

Until racing can resume, NASCAR and the industry as a whole have really stepped up to help our country’s healthcare workers. This decision is serving the community and ultimately, saving lives.

While times are challenging due to the current state of our world, the need for skilled technicians remains. “All the engineers in the world can come up with great ideas, but to really execute them, it takes the technicians and fabricators who work hands-on,” Hank shares.

Hank has been with NASCAR for 14 years now, and he has loved being part of such an exciting industry. While he never saw his career leading to such a critical volunteer opportunity, he’s glad he has been able to help alongside his team.

“It’s a great feeling knowing that healthcare workers can do their job more safely,” he shares.

As our world continues to navigate these trying times, the heroic acts of those like Hank serve as a reminder that when we join our efforts, big things can happen.

UTI and NASCAR Tech would like to say thank you to all of our graduates and the technicians who are on the frontlines during this crisis. The impact you’re making is profound, and we appreciate all you are doing!

Train for Your Career at NASCAR Tech

NASCAR Technical Institute is the exclusive educational provider for NASCAR and the only campus in the country to offer NASCAR-endorsed training. To learn more, visit our campus page and request information today.

In response to COVID-19, UTI has temporarily moved to instructor-led online learning. Visit our website to learn more.
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