Modernised Ranger Assembly Line Launched
Ford South Africa has created around 1 200 incremental jobs by adding a third shift as part of the $1.05-billion investment in its Silverton Assembly Plant.
The local workforce has increased from the current 4 200 Ford South Africa employees to approximately 5 000, along with an additional 440 jobs at the plant’s on-site service provider. This takes the total Ford employees at the Silverton facility to over 4 100, with 850 people employed at Ford’s Struandale Engine Plant in Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth). The reintroduction of the third shift will support expanded production of the current Ranger pickup to meet strong local and international demand. It will also enable an increased production capacity for the next-generation Ranger, starting in 2022.
This is the first use of a three-shift production schedule since it was implemented as a temporary measure during the second half of 2019 to fulfil higher production volumes required for the current Ranger – and will see the Silverton Assembly Plant operating around the clock, five days a week.
“Our key objectives with the $1.05-billion investment in the Silverton Assembly Plant and our supplier facilities are to expand our production capacity, and to introduce the most advanced technologies and systems as we modernise our manufacturing operations to bring them in line with the best in the world,” says Ockert Berry, VP Operations at Ford South Africa.
“Crucially for our communities, the higher production volumes mean more jobs, and we are delighted to add the 1 200 jobs that now fill the third shift from the beginning of September,” Berry says. “We first ran three shifts and 24-hour production for a limited period in 2019 to meet higher volume targets, and we are delighted to reinstate this extra shift as a permanent fixture as we ramp up our production.
“The employees that were brought on board and trained in 2019 were given first option to take up the new positions, and it is fantastic to see our Ford family growing as we head into the most exciting and dynamic chapter of Ford’s history in South Africa yet as we prepare for the next-generation Ranger in 2022,” Berry adds.
With the additional shift, the Silverton Assembly Plant will be capable of producing up to 720 vehicles per day, or 240 units per shift – which equates to one new Ranger coming off the line every two minutes. Two-thirds of the Rangers produced are exported to more than 100 global markets, including Europe where it is the top-selling pickup. The balance is sold in South Africa, regularly achieving overall top-three sales.
When the next-generation Ranger is launched in 2022, the facility will have an annual installed capacity for 200 000 vehicles – which is nearly double the 110 000 units it was capable of when production of the current Ranger pickup began in 2011, and a significant increase from the 168 000 units prior to the commencement of the latest investment.
Modernised, more efficient, higher-volume assembly line
To realise the new production targets, the Silverton plant’s assembly line has undergone an extensive transformation focused on wide-ranging upgrades to modernise the facility, enhance efficiency and improve production quality throughout the plant. Additionally, Ford is currently constructing an all-new Body Shop and Stamping Plant on the Silverton site, along with a new in-house Frame Line in the adjacent Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone (TASEZ).
Most of the assembly line changes were completed during a strategic seven-week shutdown of the plant in July and August this year, with construction and engineering teams swooping in to remove the old equipment and install the latest technologies and production systems.
“The seven-week shutdown enabled us to implement the largest and most comprehensive upgrade and modernisation of the Silverton Assembly Plant to date,” says Plant Manager Tim Day. “Our entire focus is on being world-class and comparable with the best Ford manufacturing plants globally. This is essential as we work towards delivering the required production volumes and achieving the highest quality levels for our customers.
“The biggest change has been a total redesign of the plant layout,” Day says. “The progressive evolution of the plant saw it growing organically over the years, which resulted in a less-than-ideal layout. Accordingly, we’ve completely reworked the assembly line to maximise efficiency through the vehicle assembly and validation processes.
“We’ve removed roughly a kilometre and 20 transactions out of the previous assembly line flow by eliminating the back-and-forth movement of vehicles within the plant during the various stages of production,” he adds. “This will result in all of the manufacturing processes and quality checks being performed in the zone where it’s manufactured, contributing towards greater efficiency and more effective quality control before the vehicle moves to the next station.”
High-tech skillet system with moving platforms
Aside from the immensely complex logistics of keeping a fast-moving assembly line running optimally, ergonomics has gained new emphasis for the operators too. Most notably, the shift from fixed vehicle carriers to a flexible new skillet system has transformed the way individual tasks are performed by employees on the line.
“We did away with the previous vehicle carriers and replicated the skillet system which is used at Ford’s leading plants around the world, including the Ranger plant in Thailand and the F-150 plant in the US,” Day explains. “The skillet system is far less bulky and restrictive, and eliminates the various platforms and levels that people had to work around previously.”
With the skillets, the vehicle is automatically raised or lowered based on the ideal height for the completion of the required assembly task. It can also be adjusted to suit the height of the individual operators – thereby greatly improving the ergonomics and working conditions for the employees, improving cycle times and contributing to enhanced safety.
“An additional benefit of the skillet system is that it is based on a moving platform, which eliminates the need for the operators to continuously reposition themselves to perform the assembly operations while keeping up with the vehicle as it progresses down the line,” Day says. “This allows the operators to focus all of their attention on building the vehicle, driving big improvements in efficiency, quality and first-time-through (FTT).”
The plant has also installed an all-new Box Line for the Ranger’s load compartment, a new fully automated robotic station for the precise application of the windscreen seal, and a specially designed instrument panel sub-assembly line. There’s an advanced new ‘Vac and Fill’ facility that integrates the filling of the Ranger’s liquids (fuel, brake fluid and engine coolant) and the air-conditioner gas – the new system replacing the inefficient multi-station configuration used previously.
The final integration of the automated Wheel and Tyre Facility, which was launched in September last year, has been completed. The fitted wheels and tyres are now automatically sequenced onto the assembly line via the roof of the main plant, eliminating the use of trolleys and the movement of vehicles and people. A series of latest-generation wheel and headlight alignment booths are another important new feature of the plant upgrades, complemented by a rigorous new water test facility that uses high-pressure jets to pinpoint any water intrusion into the cabin of the vehicle.
Uncompromising world-class quality
Taking the unwavering focus on product quality to even greater heights, a completely new Customer Acceptance Line (CAL) facility has been installed where specialised quality inspectors scrutinise every aspect of the vehicle on a brightly lit audit line – validating the accurate fitment of parts, paint and bodywork quality, and the operation of all vehicle systems.
Thereafter the Ranger is driven on a newly constructed ‘rattle and squeak’ track which incorporates a variety of road surfaces to ensure the build integrity of the vehicle. A new ‘clear vision’ track has been constructed, which checks that the vehicle’s wheel alignment is accurately set when driving on the perfectly level surface, ensuring that it doesn’t pull to one side. Only after passing these final quality checks is it signed off and ready for delivery to local or export customers.
A new Vehicle Modification Centre is being constructed too, for the on-site fitment of a variety of optional Ford-approved accessories. This facility will have its own dedicated rattle and squeak track to make sure Ford’s stringent quality standards are maintained in the final fitment process.
“We have invested extensively in the complete integration and centralisation of our quality systems,” Day points out. “This allows every operator, team leader, process coach, supervisor or manager to actively track quality performance throughout the assembly line, and immediately identify and correct any concerns that appear. Buffer areas have also been introduced between the different sections of the assembly line, which allows any off-line work or repairs to be conducted without impacting the rest of the line.”
Investing in people
Extensive training has been completed with the existing and new Silverton Assembly Plant employees and suppliers to facilitate the smooth transition and implementation of the new technologies and systems. “People are our most important and valuable asset, so along with the plant upgrades and associated training, we have also invested in the aesthetics and practical elements of the entire facility to turn it into a more modern, relaxed, respectful and welcoming work environment,” Day says.