Ford recently committed to investing $1 billion into South Africa to expand its engine and vehicle assembly plants – with this amount equating to roughly R15.8 billion at the time of the announcement.
Almost a year later, Ford has made considerable progress with its plant inside the special economic zone (SEZ) in Silverton, Pretoria and the company recently took members of the media for a tour of its premises.
Not only did we see the new machinery and buildings, but also left-hand-drive, special-edition vehicles like the Ranger Wolftrak and Ranger Limited that are only available in regions such as the U.K. and North America.
The purpose of the enormous investment is for the upgrading of the plant so that it can handle increased production of the next-gen Ranger and Everest, as well as production of the next-gen VW Amarok that is based on the Ford-developed T6 platform.
When the upgrades are finished, Ford said its new plant will be capable of making one vehicle every two minutes, while the entire 279-hectare campus will be home to the automaker and 20 of its suppliers, which will total roughly 10,000 employees.
The upgraded plant will be one of the first Ford factories in the world to achieve “island mode” in 2024 – whereby it will use 100% locally-sourced renewable energy and will not need to depend on national infrastructure for water and electricity.
Currently, it boasts a state-of-the-art water treatment plant that meets almost all the factory’s needs. Over 4,200 parking bays have been covered with solar panels, too, and more are still to come.
The storage facilities have also improved to reduce lead-time for certain parts, and Ford’s chassis factory – which was previously located in Pretoria North – is now situated in the SEZ to cut down on production costs and time.
The building where the new Ranger and Everest will be assembled, and where the current model ranges are being built, is a sight to behold.
The monolithic structure stretches four stories up and four stories down, and covers a total of 10,320 square metres.
Inside, a long, winding assembly line moves the parts at a consistent speed, starting at one end with a naked chassis and driving out the other end as a fully-fledged Ford.
The upgraded building features 493 “non-spark” robots, the first workshop outside of the USA that sprays plastic bed liners, and the first body-part stamping machine in South Africa – which turns 16 flat sheets of metal into perfectly formed panels every minute.
The assembly line is extremely advanced and an electronic system lets you find any part anywhere in the facility by entering the VIN number of the vehicle it will be fitted to.
Ford said the robots that are responsible for painting the vehicles do so completely autonomously, and one machine can paint any vehicle in any colour combination without any human intervention.
Additionally, Ford said the next-gen Ranger will be assembled slightly differently to the bakkie that came before it, in order to enhance structural rigidity.
Driving through the plant on a guided tour at a strict 5km/h was entertaining and educational.
Everywhere you look, the smallest parts are being put together and the tiniest details looked over, some of which you will never even think about while owning your car.
The fuel tanks have their own line where all the small wires and sensors are installed. The engines, gearboxes, and body parts all have their own areas where there are people working exclusively on them.
Additionally, random models are periodically taken off the assembly line and subjected to a 24-hour “soak test” to check the waterproofing. Outside, a small and bumpy test track sees dozens of just-finished vehicles put through their paces to listen for any creeks or groans.
Even the workbenches are adjusted to the height of the individual employee working at that particular station to reduce the need for bending over.
Around the main assembly building, you’ll also find a paint shop, an office building, thousands of parking bays, a number of storage facilities for the many components, and a scrap recycling area.
Photos of Ford’s factory can be viewed below.