Digitalising manufacturing operations in a new facility

MotorOne Group

Australian automotive aftermarket service provider MotorOne Group has consolidated its manufacturing into a new, purpose-built facility. Manufacturers’ Monthly finds out how a new project will automate and digitalise processes. 

MotorOne Group is Australia’s largest after car care provider and scratch and dent repairer. With a focus on innovation, the company provides solutions to common challenges through automotive intermediaries – a portfolio of brands allows the business to utilise its network and provide strength in numbers.

Greg Lewis, CEO of  MotorOne Group said prior to this year, manufacturing was the ugly duckling of the business. 

“We are a manufacturer of a diverse range of products, for the cleaning of vehicles, prevention of paintwork deterioration, protection of interior – you name it, we actually make it,” he said. “In the past, the manufacturing never really was spoken about, because the old plants were small, unattractive old warehouses.”

With twelve different business units supporting continued growth, MotorOne needed to iron out inefficiencies in its manufacturing and warehousing. The business had four warehouses in Victoria from Bayswater through to Nunawading, all paying rent with four groups of workers, transporting goods in between each other with two trucks. 

“The loss of productivity was significant,” Lewis explained. “We purpose-built the new facility, so we’re bringing four into one for warehousing. We are now able to bottle, package, label into our warehouse, through to our distribution centre for delivery. It’s streamlined the whole process of what was a clunky operation.”

As well as a positive environmental impact from a reduction in transport, the human impact of consolidating into a new Bayswater facility shouldn’t be forgotten. Under the same roof, workers can feel more aligned with a group purpose, as well as the morale boost from entering an intentionally designed, clean building every day. 

“Our past facilities didn’t reflect the front end of our business at all,” he said. “In the new facility we have specific demonstration areas for products to our customer base. Customers can visit with a full catalogue on display, seeing the complexities and chemical formulas behind the construction of products. It’s timely for us because we can confidently show off and talk about our manufacturing and how a little Australian company makes world class products.”

MotorOne Group
At the new Bayswater building, chemists will have a handheld device where measurements will be entered and recorded automatically.

Improving efficiency with IIoT

In collaboration with the Swinburne University of Technology and supported by the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), MotorOne will harness the Industrial Internet-of-Things (IIoT) to capture and monitor key information on the factory floor at the new chemical plant in Bayswater. 

The six-month, $295,000 research project automate and digitalise its manufacturing and quality assurance processes, helping to production processes and support data-driven decision making in real-time. 

There was a feeling of excitement when Lewis discussed the project, in which MotorOne will replace traditional measuring methods with the accuracy of automation.

 “The challenge we currently face is that our manual chemical mixing process results in significant variations in final product quality,” Lewis said. “With this project, we are working towards a flexible IIoT solution to improve yield, reduce waste and subsequently bring a more positive environmental impact.”

 The new solution will allow for closer monitoring of the products as they’re being manufactured, with parameters like mixing time, mixing speed, pH and temperature all assessed in real time. Instead of relying on a test at the end of the process, the added layer of measurement can better identify slight inaccuracies and miscalculation. 

“IoT devices will connect us more directly to the dosing equipment. When you’ve got a complex mix and a complex material structure, you want that direct access, so we’re putting really good control systems into allow for that traceability and control,” he said. 

“We also might be able to do some process adjustments because we can see exactly what’s happening with the chemical mixing process and the batch as it’s being as it’s being mixed. We can assess the analytics from the whole process and we might learn some things we didn’t know. For example, we might be able to reduce the amount of raw materials that go into a particular product and still get the same quality results, which saves money. We can adjust our recipes by looking at the data and optimising the process.” 

This newfound ability to leverage of digitisation will result in commercial enhancements and contribute to the development of new products for an emerging marketplace, Lewis explained. 

“We’re very excited and we believe this innovation will also enable us to be able to innovate more products to be able to manufacture different types of products for different versions of applications, and maybe not just in the car industry,” he noted. “For example, we make a lot of tech products in the equine space. One interesting product our chemist has made is for protecting horse rugs. So rather than replacing horse rugs, we can actually protect them and waterproof them and make them last two, three or four times longer than they normally would. Stepping out of more old-fashioned processes will allow us to continue making innovative products like this.”

Peter Hartfield, Chief Information Officer is a Swinburne alumni with 40 years experience in the IT and manufacturing space. Hartfield noticed opportunities for significant improvements for MotorOne, so he approached Swinburne which led to a proposal and co-funding from the IMCRC. 

“The initial project is to assess what the potential is,” he said. “Once successful, we will then apply the Internet of Things solution to other parts of the business. Our staff are absolutely embracing the opportunity for processes to be digitalised, rather than rely on scales and pouring material. Everyone is excited for the change.”

In the current plant, employees use a large, fixed screen to download recipes and enter ingredients in the tanks. At the new Bayswater building, chemists will have a handheld device where measurements will be entered and recorded automatically.

“From an IT perspective, we have the personnel who are equipped to work with this kind of technology,” he said. “When Swinburne is finished with the design we’ll be working closely with them to understand how it’s all been put together and how it gets scaled up to the rest of the manufacturing business.” 

Swinburne Associate Professor and Research Lead, Prem Prakash Jayaraman, echoed Hartfield’s sentiments that the collaboration will optimise efficiency and productivity.

 “Over the course of the project, Swinburne and MotorOne Group will work hand in glove to design and build an IIoT solution that seamlessly combines sensing, communication and data analytics,” he said. 

“By enabling machine-to-machine communication, designing interactive human-machine interfaces and integrating IIoT data with existing systems, MotorOne Group is embracing technological innovation and becoming an active part of Australia’s shift towards advanced manufacturing.” 

Digitilisation will result in commercial enhancements for MotorOne.

Embracing Industry 4.0

Simon Dawson, IMCRC’s Director, Industrial Transformation said the accessibility to Industry 4.0 technologies is improving. MotorOne’s automation project is an example of a business taking a first step into digitilisation as part of a longer journey, in which IMCRC is contributing $63,000 in co-funding.

“It’s becoming easier in terms of costs and complexities for manufacturing businesses,” he said. “At the same time, there is inertia with some organisations, which is why having a collaboration with someone like Swinburne takes the stress out of some of these steps. It’s an interesting balance – there is still reticence in the industry in aligning automation with a business plan. Here you’ve got a really nice combination – MotorOne has a new facility, a growth journey having thought through their business strategy and are helped by having a partner to add a little bit of extra competence and capability.”

Dawson added that by pioneering the design of modular and agile technology, MotorOne Group has the potential to expand its offering and provide the solution to other manufacturing small to medium enterprises for adoption.

“These collaborative partnerships between industry and university are invaluable and enable businesses to access the expertise and support needed to more seamlessly introduce and integrate Industry 4.0 into their operations,” he explained. “If a particular solution is identified for one business it’s important to be able to transfer it across to the broader SME community. Organisations need the confidence to take the next step. Seeing examples of this in not necessarily the biggest companies in the world promotes confidence in the adoption and investment of this kind of technology.”

As part of the project, MotorOne Group will participate in IMCRC’s futuremap program and undertake an in-depth Industry 4.0 readiness assessment to inform its digital manufacturing strategy. 

“The readiness assessment module is there to allow organisations to self-reflect, asking how far down the Industry 4.0 journey the are, as well as giving an insight into areas where opportunities exist and whether base foundational tasks need to be prepared for advancement to be achieved,” he noted. “We can’t go down the Industry 4.0 journey without forgetting it’s about improving what you already have. Identifying factory flow, data management, documentation or process control as an area to improve helps businesses lay the proper foundations for a transition to more automation.”

Greg Lewis said in the case of MotorOne Group, the business has a clear vision of where they want to go, which brings exciting prospects. 

“The opportunity to be involved with other professional organisations to really accelerate the modernisation of our manufacturing will be to the advantage of the first and second-tier customers,” he said. 

“We don’t talk about this as a short-term investment, this is a five-year plan which will be fantastic for our business.”

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