2022 saw Ford Motor Company wrapping up its upgrades of its Silverton Assembly Plant following a R15.8 billion ($1.05 billion) investment in its local operations and supplier tooling.
The announcement was made in February 2021 and then in an effort becoming a modern automotive giant such as Ford, upgrades took shape with lightning speed over the next 28 months finally culminating in the launch of its Next-Generation Ford Ranger in November 2022.
One of the main aims of the investment was to enhance the facility to have an installed capacity of 200 000 vehicles per annum. This is nearly double the 110 000 units it was capable of when it started the first incarnation of its segment-defining Ranger in 2011. Before the commencement of the latest investment, the facility was producing 168 000 units per annum.
To realise this target Ford constructed 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 over July and August 2022, with construction and engineering teams descending on the plant to remove old equipment and install the latest cutting-edge technologies and production systems which even included an artificial intelligence component.
According to plant manager Tim Day, the biggest change was a total redesign of the plant layout. “We have completely reworked the assembly line to maximise efficiency through the vehicle assembly and validation processes. We have removed roughly a kilometer 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”.
Another major move was the shift from fixed vehicle carriers to a flexible new skillet system which means the vehicle is automatically raised or lowered based on the ideal height for the completion of the required assembly task which is less taxing for operators.
In its pursuit of product quality, a completely new Customer Acceptance Line (CAL) facility has been installed where specialized quality inspectors scrutinize every aspect of the vehicle. AI cameras has been added to the human component to scan for complexities that their flesh-and-blood counterparts might have missed.
The 10 320m² new high-tech stamping plant came into operation in July 2022. Previously the plant used external suppliers to stamp metal body parts, but the operation was brought in-house to ensure production quality throughout the process, validate that all parts are within specification, and then deliver them directly to the body shop. The new stamping facility also saw a higher level of automation which eliminate time, cost and potential damage incurred when transporting parts. The plant compromises five tandem presses, including a 2500-ton draw press, a 1600-ton press and three 1000-ton presses.
According to Jan Groenewald, Area Manager for the stamping plant, the plant has “47 die sets with a total of 208 dies producing 67 different parts including the floor pan, body sides, roof, bonnet, doors and load box”. The plant will process 272 tons of steel per day over a three-shift system.
The 44 000m² body shop was built adjacent to the stamping plant to facilitate a seamless flow of stamped panels to the line. The highly automated body shop consists of 493 robots and the latest splatter-free welding tech.
In October 2022 the final piece of the multi-billion Rand investment slotted into place with its new frame line commencing operations. The frame line is the only Ford-operated chassis manufacturing facility in the world. The 100 000m² facility is 95% automated and rely on 585 robots to assemble and weld the frames.
The whole operation is also complimented by a 5000m² wheel and tyre facility with a fully automated wheel and tyre fitment and balancing process capable of handling 15 to 20-inch rim diameters, nine rim options and 20 tyre variants.
The plant will be capable of producing up to 720 vehicles per day, or 240 units per shift, which equates to one new Ranger coming of the line every two minutes.
The investment has added an additional 1200 jobs at its Silverton Assembly Plant
The last first-generation Ford Ranger came off the assembly line on 10 November 2022 and production of the first of its Next-Gen Rangers started on 15 November in the same year.