At Ford’s new plant near Tshwane, 585 robots and more than 1,000 tools are used in the highly automated frame welding and assembly process. The latest and biggest piece of Ford Motor Company’s R15.8 billion investment puzzle for its South African operations, it introduces a new Frame Line that is starting work in preparation for production of the next generation Ranger.
Located in the Tshwane Special Economic Zone (TASEZ), adjacent to Ford’s Silverton plant, Frame Line is the only Ford-owned and operated chassis manufacturing facility in the world. It covers an area of 100,000 m2 and boasts the most advanced robotic production and quality control system currently available.
“Our aim with the next generation Ranger is to achieve the highest ever production volumes and quality for the Silverton assembly plant, ensuring that the vehicles we supply to our customers in South Africa and more than 100 global export markets are world-class. in every sense,” says Okert Berry, vice president of operations at Ford South Africa.
“The Ranger pickup’s ladder frame is fundamental to its overall quality, performance and durability, whether it’s used as an everyday family vehicle or in heavy-duty commercial use. Accordingly, as with our new on-site stamping plant, moving frame production in-house allows us to closely monitor and control every step of the manufacturing process.
“We have invested in the latest robotic technology to weld and transport the frame components, along with a fully automated electronic coating system and robotic wax application. Rigorous quality checks are carried out using advanced inspection and measurement systems, including a sophisticated 3D blue light scanning system, to ensure there is no compromise in quality.”
At the heart of the Frame line are two identical lines that produce these large and heavy steel components, with 15 derivatives produced to support the various model iterations as well as the demands of the local and export markets. A total of 387 hourly workers and 25 salaried workers operate the Frame Line in two shifts – all of whom have undergone intensive training at the factory.
“The facility is 95 percent automated, and 585 robots are used to assemble and weld the frames,” says Yetin Gengan, Frame Line’s regional manager. “We use the latest SKS automated intelligent welding system with I&K Pulse technology to guarantee the highest level of welding precision and stability.
“Additionally, we have more than 1,000 tools on the lines, including buffers and robotic grippers, which ensures a seamless production process that eliminates manual handling and operations that can introduce deviations into production quality.”
Adjacent to the production area is a complex multi-stage e-coating facility where the frames are fully immersed in a series of detergent and phosphate solutions and then immersed in an electrically charged tank where the paint is uniformly bonded to the metal. A robotic station then applies protective wax to the inside of the frame to ensure rust protection and durability.
Strict quality control measures are implemented throughout the Frame Line, including ongoing Perceptron measurements of every chassis produced in the factory. In addition, the GOM ATOS ScanBox high-tech blue light scanning system is used to create highly detailed 3D models of the entire chassis or individual sections, comparing the results to the stored design specification.
“With these advanced and highly accurate measuring and scanning systems, we can monitor data in real-time to quickly identify and address any quality issues before the frame leaves the factory,” Gengan says. “All data is stored in our quality management system to track trends and we can access measurement and image data at any time if there is a concern with any chassis we manufacture.”
As part of comprehensive quality checks, the plant also includes a weld disassembly facility with world-class macro-cutting and etching processes that assess the strength and integrity of individual welds.
After the frames are ready, they are stored in an underground department of finished products with a capacity of 6,000 units. The frames are then processed in an automated sequencing system and moved to the assembly plant in Silverton, where suspension and brake components, differentials, engine, transmission, exhaust system and fuel tank are installed in assembly areas before being joined to the cab and cargo. box on the finishing line, chassis and final.
Berry says, “Having the frame line next to the assembly plant is extremely beneficial as it not only ensures that the frames are consistently placed on the assembly line in the most efficient manner, but also eliminates damage caused during shipping and handling. transportation of parts by road transport. All this contributes to the improvement of quality and greater customer satisfaction.”