Your future is not your past, says SMR Automotive Australia’s General Manager Matt Harkness. 

It’s a belief that reflects the component manufacturer’s trajectory of success, given its history of 'firsts to the market' to make driving safer — and more fun. 

The company, based in Lonsdale, Adelaide, develops, produces and distributes high-tech exterior mirrors, interior mirrors, blind-spot detection systems and a wide range of other automotive components for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) around the world. 

It was the very first company to introduce an all-plastic exterior mirror for passenger cars, an electrically extendable trailer tow mirror for light commercial vehicles and the world’s first LED indicator light with light piping technology. 

SMR's ability to develop innovative products with more exciting features for its global customers, who are international high-end automotive OEMs, represents a shift from its past, when it mostly supplied wing mirrors to domestic carmakers Holden, Ford, and Toyota. 

“A lot of other Tier Ones that were left behind when the domestic OEMs closed pivoted into industries like defence and had to scale down their business,” says Head of Business Development Oliver Gibson. 

“We were fortunate to already have high export sales and our investment in new technologies and competencies meant we were able to stay competitive in a global market.” 

Today, SMR Australia has a unique and niche product range catering to its automotive export portfolio.  

“We are always looking forward,” Mr Harkness said. 

“What is the next feature? The next value-add? What do we need to develop today to be ready for tomorrow? This approach goes back a long way in the history of this facility and is the reason why we’re so innovative. 

“A lot of people don’t realise that some of the most interesting components on vehicles around the world are made right here in Adelaide.” 

Actuators, plastic decorative parts with metallic finishes, logo lamps, ambient lighting and illuminated badges are just some of the products SMR Australia produces today with new products being developed for future vehicle launches.  

Demand starts in the premium and luxury car markets and trickles down until eventually, the features become standard on more affordable models. 

SMR, part of the Motherson Group and one of the largest manufacturers in SA outside of the defence and construction industries, aims to create customer delight rather than just fulfil a need. 

“We pride ourselves on the strength of our engineering capabilities to design new and novel components that customers want,” Mr Gibson said. 

“We are forever surprising people: our customers, our local industry networks. That power to both surprise and solve problems is what keeps us in business.  

“In addition, our dedication to quality and the general Australian pragmatism for calling things as they are as opposed to how they should be or will be in three months generates a trust with our customers.” 

It is this trust and quality that has enabled SMR to continue to be successful despite its relative distance from its customers. 

“Customers invest a lot of trust in suppliers when it comes to buying from Australia, and they come to us when they can’t find local competency to engage in the project," Mr Gibson said. 

“So, we are always doing the hardest projects and exporting them from Australia. We are always pushing the boundaries to solve our customers' problems, making things bright enough and dynamic enough to fit the application. We are able to provide solutions in the shortest possible lead time which is an edge we have over other companies.” 

SMR Australia operates from its 15,700m2 state-of-the-art facility in Lonsdale. 

“We have quite an advanced manufacturing facility,” Mr Harkness said. 

“Our facility is big on automation; it’s what contributes to our high level of quality control. We have pick-and-place machines and 6 axis robots to handle most of the injection moulded parts. We have automated guided vehicles which run around our plant and deposit parts into and out of storage racks and then we have more robots doing parts of the assembly and quality control process.” 

All up, there are 83 robots that are supported by a highly specialised team of engineers. 

“For these assemblies, we do everything from design to manufacturing, including all the testing and validation,” Mr Harkness said. 

“We have injection moulding, plastic welding and electronics  PCBA (Printed Circuit Board Assembly) manufacturing. We have fully automated assembly lines for some of our components where there is zero operator involvement. Then we have others that are quite operator intensive because of the complexity of that part. 

“We are a full system-solutions provider to our customers. When the OEM comes to us, they know that we deliver the part from start to finish and there is no coordination to be done with other local suppliers. That is a big unique selling point. There are coating suppliers and lighting suppliers but there aren’t many companies who can put it all together. 

“We have a brilliant and efficient team that takes care of all customer requirements. The diversity in our engineering team enables a high level of vertical integration."

The growth of the EV market has presented new opportunities. 

“With the shift to EVs, drivers are finding cars have less personality,” Mr Gibson said. 

“There is less that defines an EV because you’re missing that performance; you’re missing the theatre of a petrol vehicle, so OEMs are compensating for that with distinctive interior features like decorative parts and exterior features like decorative lighting. That has created a rise in demand for the commodities that we produce. 

“You have to keep that innovation going so you have something relevant to offer post five years. That's a big part of our planning. You’ve got to keep developing new products to always stay ahead of the curve.” 

 

Picture: An SMR employee tests a logo lamp.

 

SMR Automotive Australia has been a member of Ai Group since 1960. 

“SMR has received great support from The Australian Industry Group for many years and has really benefited from the advice Ai Group provides and the lobbying it does on behalf of its members." Matt Harkness, General Manager, SMR Automotive Australia 

Wendy Larter

Wendy Larter is the Senior Content Writer at Ai Group. She is a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience as a reporter, features writer, contributor and sub-editor for newspapers and magazines including The Courier-Mail in Brisbane and Metro, News of the World, The Times and Elle in the UK.