Valvoline’s storied history begins in 1866 when, as a producer of petroleum based lubricant for steam engines, it flourished as the rail network expanded in the United States. But it wasn’t until Valvoline became the recommended oil for the Ford Model T, the world’s first mass produced car, that the sudden increasing demand carried it overseas.
Trademarked in 1873, the brand arrived in Australia in 1901 where it was distributed by Jerimah Carrigan and his family until 1958 when the company established a warehouse and head office in Sydney. A facility in Adelaide soon followed in 1959 before the company moved into other parts of the country.
Valvoline now maintains a national footprint with facilities in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Newcastle in addition to a strong third-party network and sites in Auckland and Christchurch.
David Pye, Valvoline Australia Supply Chain Director, was instrumental in increasing Valvoline’s presence across the Tasman into New Zealand and has helped oversee a raft of recent innovations and infrastructural modifications that have taken place at the main facility in Wetherill Park in Sydney. In 2007 the Valvoline production facility underwent an $8 million upgrade as part of the company’s growing commitment to local production and sustainable practices.
This included the installation of solar panels and underground separators.
“We’ve continued to reinvest in our local production facility over the years,” says David. “As the majority of products for both the Australian and New Zealand markets are locally manufactured from the one production site it is important that we make it as flexible a facility as possible so that we are able to continue producing the ever-increasing volume required.”
A few years ago, the entire yard – the 6,000m² building sits on three acres – was completely re-concreted to accommodate 15 new bulk tanks. A new laboratory was added along with a fully automated 20-litre drum filling machine. More recently two automatic case over packers were installed along with digital vision systems, checking every bottle, which then feeds to an ABB Robot palletising cell.
David, who has been with Valvoline 29 years, has seen many changes to the production line and the product mix. When he started out the bottles were hand-packed with about half a dozen to a dozen pallets completed in a day. Following these recent installations Valvoline now produce closer to 50 pallets a shift.
In the early days, as David recalls it, there was only two pack sizes Valvoline would have to provide to fulfil the needs of its automotive and transport customers. Now, with a burgeoning product mix, it handles anything from a 200ml bottle to intermediate bulk containers (IBC) while also having load out capabilities for their tanker fleet, loading ISO tankers or other interstate bulk tankers.
“The product mix is crazy now. Every passenger car and every car company have their own and different grades of oil,” he says. “That’s probably the real difference. It was very simple in the early days.”
In those early days, Valvoline was, as a brand, etching its own place in Australian pop culture, thanks in part to the golden dulcet tones of the popular syndicated radio announcer John Laws, who signed on as ambassador for the company’s memorable TV and radio ads in 1990. David was just starting out as the catchphrase “Valvoline, you know what I mean,” brought brand awareness to households all over the country.
“In those early days there were only a couple of motor oils at 20W-50 and a couple of diesel oils. That was basically it. In today’s market we formulate lubricants tailored to vehicles and machinery that come from across the globe. We’re producing around 100 different products in as many as seven different pack sizes. It’s complex.”
The most recent upgrades to the Wetherill Park facility have also been prompted to ensure ongoing compliance as well as improve plant efficiencies.
“It’s important we give our customers a better-quality product while also giving the team who work daily at the plant improvements in ergonomics and general wellbeing,” says David.
Staff regularly receive hearing tests and filters collect samples to monitor any particles and fumes employees might be subjected to. New drainage has gone into the site on a new building where there is both clean water drains and dirty water drains. Anything that is classed as dirty water goes to a separator to pits in the ground and then it is discharged and tested by a third party before it is sent off site.
“At Valvoline we are as environmentally friendly as possible,” David says. “With an ever-expanding global footprint Valvoline is very big on sustainability. We adhere to all standards and regulations but also look for additional ways for the business to act in an environmentally responsible manner.”
Valvoline recycles as much as it can. It is a member of the Australian Packaging Covenant, a group that encourages its members to reduce their environmental footprint.
Even though it is an oil company Valvoline washes all of its rags. According to David the company separates 93 per cent of all its waste. As the remainder cannot be recycled, it is incinerated.
Well over 90 per cent of waste gets sorted out and designated for later, appropriate disposal.
“We do environmental monitoring. Anything that we discharge or anything that we do on site is all done in accordance with the latest regulations.” says David.
All product samples are recorded in adherence to ISO 40001 under responsible care for the environment and people.
“It’s comprehensive and covers most of everything on the site,” David explains. “Everything that is manufactured needs to be tested to ensure the product going into every Valvoline bottle meets the specifications and standards we claim. A retained sample is kept and then once it is tested by our onsite laboratory it is given the OK to be packed off. These samples are kept onsite and even re-tested later to confirm our products not only meet the specifications Valvoline claim, but also the longevity.”
A new laboratory was added to the Valvoline facility in 2014. It’s certified to ISO 9001 by the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA), an authority that provides independent assurance of technical competence through a proven network of best practice industry experts.
NATA provides assessment, accreditation and training services to laboratories and technical facilities. Its role is to serve the national and public interest, by ensuring that organisations comply with relevant international and Australian standards. Valvoline is one of only a handful of lubricant suppliers with such an accreditation.
Valvoline Australia, according to David, is also about to move from 18001 to 45001 accreditation for the latest safety regulations. In the interests of reaching its own compliance targets, reducing its emissions and for the health of its workers, Valvoline has additionally converted its warehouse forklifts from diesel to electric.
“This move is Valvoline looking to improve on our environmental and carbon footprint,” he says. “These new forklifts work hand in hand with our solar panels.”
Like David, many of the staff have been employed at Valvoline for more than a decade, an advantage in keeping familiar with each new product as it has been added in a supply chain sense. First hired on as a blender when he started out, David began in what is called the ‘snake pit’, where formulations for oil and lubricants are blended by hoses.
It’s exceedingly rare these days in the modern transactional work force, where employees often come and go, for someone to work their way up to an executive position from the ground floor of the same company.
On that front David is something of an aberration. Through hard work and part-time study, he has risen up the ranks promoted from leading hand, production planner, production manager and eventually to Director of Supply Chain, the role he has currently held for the past five years.
David says, by way of advice for anyone starting out in the industry, a willingness to learn and commitment to upskilling will help them go a long way.
“Not many people can say they’ve gone from the low end to a top end job and I’m lucky to call myself one of them,” he says.
“You have to go out and supplement your education. You also have to be willing to learn new things on top of the job itself. I was fortunate that I had a very good boss. He took me under his wing. He was very good in trying to help you and help make you better. When you deal with someone like that who is very good to you it makes it that much easier.”
That boss was Peter Fitzgerald. He passed away in 2017.
“He was a very good man, very well liked within the business and he was a long term employee, too,” David says. “I owe a lot to him. If you’re willing to start somewhere and stick it out there’ll be opportunities in time. I’ve been fortunate. It’s a very good company to work for.”