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Applying a micro-factory automation approach

Applying a micro-factory automation approach

A future of enterprise study, Issue #4.1

Digitalization insights from an industry case study

Embedding cellular connectivity into micro-factory systems significantly reduces TTM and facilitates customer agility with “plug-and-play” solutions.

The car wash industry, with over USD 30 billion in global value and a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3 percent, predominantly comprises small and medium businesses, as per Straits Research.

Market growth is driven by consumers increasingly favoring car wash services over washing their own cars. Simultaneously, the professional car wash industry has made significant progress in minimizing its environmental impact, including endorsing efficient water utilization, water recycling and the utilization of environmentally friendly detergents.

Car washes can be built as systems leveraging conveyor technology to transport vehicles through fully automated car wash tunnels. Alternatively, they can be centered around stationary vehicles, either as self-service solutions or as “in-bay automatic” systems.

In-bay automatic systems hold the majority of the market share as they require less space, have a lower cost of ownership and do not require dedicated personnel. Car wash tunnels, however, enable a higher throughput. Recent advancements in car wash tunnel solutions facilitate further automation as well as easier installation and better scalability. This will contribute to further growth of the car wash tunnel segment, as will be explained further in this case study.

The car wash market is characterized by high price pressure and limited customer loyalty. Consumers typically choose the cheapest and nearest facilities, expecting minimal waiting time and a perfect service. Therefore, a superior customer experience must be provided based on smooth service flows, on-site entertainment and intuitive self-service for ordering and payment.

From a service delivery perspective, an automated car wash tunnel needs to be seen as a micro-factory equipped with highly sophisticated robotic systems, including conveyors, foamers, wheel brushes, drying systems and other electro-mechanical equipment that is constantly exposed to water, mud, abrasive chemicals and dirt. Mechanical failure can have severe consequences including lost revenue, damaged cars or even accidents involving customers. Furthermore, all equipment needs to be orchestrated and maintained to guarantee service availability and customer satisfaction.

As a result of all this, as can be seen in Figure 6, ICT networks have become critical for the car wash industry, and ensuring the quick installation of these complex car wash tunnels with minimal TTM is essential.

Figure 6: Car wash tunnels – applying a micro-factory automation approach

Car wash tunnels – applying a micro-factory automation approach

Digitalizing the car wash industry – Motor City Wash Works

Motor City Wash Works (Motor City hereafter) has been providing reliable conveyor car wash equipment to car wash service providers since the early 2000s. Today, Motor City is recognized as a major global manufacturer of automated car wash systems.

Data-driven operations of car wash tunnels are key to addressing the aforementioned industry challenges. As a result, Motor City offers an IoT- and cloud-based management platform (CruzControl), enhancing operational efficiency through improved data visibility, analytics and automation.

This offering generates several key benefits, including:

  • reducing equipment downtime for planned or unplanned repair and maintenance
  • eliminating lost revenue due to inadequate management of supplies
  • reducing the risk of accidents involving human casualties and incidents with environmental impact
  • improving scalable operations of larger numbers of sites
  • improving cyber security (including the protection of payment transactions)
  • improving the handling of false customer damage claims
  • reducing long site installation times due to complex car wash and ICT systems
“Through our Cradlepoint connection, [we can] pretty much control every facet of the car wash tunnel. You don't always want to send out specialized labor to complete those [fine tuning] tasks because that can be really costly.”

Rob Peraino, Sales Manager, Motor City Express Networks

Motor City’s digitalized solutions

With CruzControl, Motor City provides a portfolio of digital solutions based on on-site ICT infrastructure and AI-enabled cloud services. Local ICT infrastructure comprises a pre-packed IT system with embedded connectivity and an industrial controller for car wash equipment. Cloud-based services include comprehensive site surveillance, predictive maintenance capabilities and tools for online configuration, remote support, analytics and documentation.

Motor City collects data from industrial automation devices including sensors, drives and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), transmitting data about motor vibrations, brush movements and chemical levels. Critical information from each car wash site is transmitted to the data center and subsequently presented to each car wash management team through user-friendly online dashboards, enabling informed actions.

A key component of the on-site connectivity solution is the Cradlepoint enterprise router with embedded 4G/5G dual-SIM to establish a secure VPN tunnel that includes a fallback option to a second cellular network, as well as an interface for fixed-line connectivity. In areas that are well served with 5G connectivity, embedded SIMs also drive a cellular-first approach. The Cradlepoint router also provides an edge cloud capability – in this case, it is used to host APIs for third-party equipment integration (such as point of sale, or POS, terminals) as well as APIs for asset monitoring software.

The integration of PoS terminals for secure digital sales is an important capability of the solution. Payment transactions need to be protected, and integration between PoS devices and the controller of the car wash tunnel ensures that only car wash service packages that are currently functional and available can be sold, which is key to avoiding customer dissatisfaction.

This pre-packed plug-and-play ICT solution empowers Motor City Wash Works’ customers with reliable edge connectivity, enabling real-time monitoring, remote troubleshooting and data-driven insights. Pre-packaging local ICT infrastructure allows a plug-and-play installation, thereby reducing complexity and installation time, potentially by several weeks.

“When our little data rack enclosure arrives on site, all they have to do is plug it into a power outlet. It immediately grabs its cellular connectivity, and you have day one internet connectivity wherever you are.”

Rob Peraino, Sales Manager, Motor City Express Networks


Embedding cellular connectivity into Motor City Wash Works’ automatic car wash tunnel systems significantly reduces TTM and facilitates customer agility with “plug-and-play” solutions.

Asset monitoring, remote control and connected offerings create enterprise value for Motor City Wash Works

The enterprise value created by Motor City’s offerings, which is powered through cellular and cloud solutions as technology enablers, is based on several fundamental IoT use cases including asset monitoring, remote control and connected offerings.

Asset monitoring collects asset performance and environmental data, enabling predictive maintenance and management of supplies, such as cleaning chemicals. Equally relevant is site surveillance, customer car documentation and number plate recognition. These capabilities reduce system downtime, minimize the risk of accidents, ensure service availability and quality, and help to manage customer damage claims, thereby contributing to agility and resilience.

Remote control allows car wash operators to send control signals to the washing tunnel machines. Several hundred control signals are needed to configure equipment and orchestrate the different machines. Furthermore, regular fine-tuning of the equipment and the wash flow can be carried out with remote assistance. This renders a significant reduction in operational costs and system downtime, contributing to advanced operations.

Connected offerings enhance the independent car wash operator’s user experience in business process management by getting access to advanced user interfaces and bundling the underlying IoT use cases such as asset monitoring and remote control. Motor City’s cloud-based management platform offers elevated customer experience for the independent car wash owners who purchase turnkey car wash solutions and contributes to more advanced operations and agility.

While Motor City is applying these IoT use cases in the context of digitalized car wash solutions, as was discussed in the chapter “Massive Value, significant investments already today” they are relevant to all the 7 studied industry segments in this report!

In the chapter “Unlocking the full digitalization market potential with the evolution of IoT use cases”, the future evolution of these use cases in their industry-agnostic form is discussed more in detail.

Evolving the use cases through advanced digital tools and components

Digital tools and components such as artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML), XR and digital twins are expected to extensively enhance IoT use case capabilities for Motor City.

Artificial intelligence

Motor City is planning to leverage AI/ML technology to further evolve the asset monitoring use case. Analyzing the data collected from Motor City's CruzControl can enable the creation of customized equipment performance or failure prognosis as well as inventory forecasts. Proactive communication of such prognoses and actionable insights through advanced applications will allow operators of car wash tunnels to cut off any potential service disruption, further reducing downtime, shrinking overhead costs and enabling just-in-time inventory management.

Extended reality (XR)

XR has the potential to create an impressive customer sales experience. Customers could see their future car wash tunnel in XR and digitally configure it to their needs. Motor City is already exploring this technology as a means for further digital sales enablement.

Digital twins

Motor City is working on a stepwise introduction of a real-time digital representation of their customers’ wash equipment (digital twins). Computer Aided Design (CAD) data is combined with real-time life cycle and performance data collected from customer equipment with remote-control capabilities. This will allow technical service personnel to remotely inspect machines, diagnose failures and take necessary measures to fix problems without being dependent on local staff.

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