Swinburne University has partnered with the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC) and leading repair solutions company - Tradiebot Industries - to catalyse the transformation of the automotive repair industry in Australia through the use of automation technologies, additive manufacturing, and advanced materials.

The collaborative project, ‘Repair Bot’, will employ robotics and 3D printing, along with complex materials, to enable an automated rapid repair service for plastic car parts. Inspiration for the project stemmed from the need for a technology-driven solution to overcome numerous issues facing the automotive repair industry. These issues range from material wastage, complex and restrictive design elements, the limited availability of skilled labour, and the long lead times and inventory holdings for replacement parts.

Tradiebot Founder Mario Dimovski believes the project’s potential benefits go far beyond just the automotive collision industry.

“The ability to repair previously non-repairable parts using world-first technology will reduce overall repair times and repair costs,” explains Dimovski. “It will also create real and significant export opportunities and has flow-on benefits for the environment by reducing land-fill. Tradiebot will also deliver new future skills to the industry as more processes become automated.”

Research the key to unlocking future benefits

The Swinburne research team will play a major role in the development and ultimate success of the Repair Bot project.

“We will rely heavily on the Swinburne team to research, develop, document and problem-solve,” explains Dimovski. “This will be vital as we invent various aspects of this world-first automated system that will revolutionise repairs of plastic components.”

As well as improving procedures in the automotive repair industry, the project could have a lasting impact on the future of advanced manufacturing within Australia and Industry 4.0. Dr Mats Isaksson, Senior Research Fellow from the Swinburne Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology, believes the project is perfectly aligned with Industry 4.0 principles.

“Industry 4.0 is all about ways of using digital technologies and connectivity to integrate the value stream,” says Dr Isaksson. “In the case of this project, knowledge can be captured regarding design information, supply and logistics, as well as distributed manufacturing capacity.”

Collaboration the key to catalysing change

David Chuter, CEO and Managing Director of the IMCRC, is enthusiastic about the positive implications of the Tradiebot Repair Bot project for other Australian manufacturers and industries.

“We at the IMCRC are excited about this project and the resulting collaboration between Tradiebot, Swinburne University and IMCRC,” he says. “This is a unique partnership that explores and invests in advanced manufacturing technologies. It is a great example of how research-led innovation ensures that the Australian automotive repairs industry can meet the challenges and opportunities of the global economy.”

The IMCRC is a not-for-profit, independent cooperative research centre that helps Australian manufacturing companies increase their relevance through collaborative, market-driven research in business models, products, processes, and services. Its vision is for a thriving, relevant and globally integrated Australian manufacturing industry. In collaboration with manufacturing businesses, research organisations, industry associations, and government, the IMCRC co-funds broad, multidisciplinary and industry-led research projects that deliver commercial outcomes, and advances the wider cause of manufacturing transformation through industry education and public advocacy.

Additive manufacturing tested to high standards

Due to the necessarily robust regulatory and manufacturing requirements that govern the automotive industry, in particular those pertaining to safety and quality control, there are a number of challenges associated with the repair of automotive parts.

“Typically, the design process for any automotive part requires that those parts will go through an extensive process of validation and testing, and therefore any associated repairs to these parts must also be tested to the necessary standards,” says Chuter. “Using a real-world example, if you’re going to replace or repair plastic lugs that attach an automotive component to a vehicle, you need to be confident that the replacement will be as good as – if not better – than the original part.”

Therefore, one critical factor to the long-term commercial success of the project will be validation of the repair work being done to the same stringent standards as set by the global automotive industry. Upon completion Repair Bot will utilise 3D printing technologies, in conjunction with smart material solutions, to enable a low-cost rapid repair service for automotive plastic trim and assembly components.

This will be achieved through a 24-month research project that will integrate additive manufacturing, 3D scanning and robotics for in-situ automotive part repairs. It is expected that when this technology is commercially implemented, it will have the potential to enable a same-day repair service that eliminates the need for replacement parts when a repair option is feasible.