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Ford Silverton plant is upping its game

Ford South Africa is on a journey to significantly improve the quality of the vehicles it produces to secure the future sustainability of its Silverton plant by enabling it to compete with Ford’s best plants globally.

It is being aided in this journey by the R1.8 billion investment to modernise and expand the Silverton plant that was announced by the Ford Motor Company in February this year, the further R5.5 billion investment by Ford in tooling at its major supplier factories, and investments of R4.33 billion by 12 automotive component suppliers in the Tshwane Automotive Special Economic Zone (SEZ) adjacent to the plant.

Read: Ford and its suppliers invest R20.13bn in South Africa

Kevin Heunis, quality director: export and import operations for Ford Middle East & Africa, said Ford Motor Company SA competes globally against all other Ford plants in the world from a cost-per-unit perspective.

“All of that is taken into account for future business,” he said.

Production of the new Ford Ranger

The Silverton plant will be one of three Ford plants to produce the new Ranger, with the new model also produced in Thailand and the US.

Heunis said Thailand is the “mother” plant for the new Ranger and the Silverton plant is “copying and pasting” some of the best practices in Ford plants across the world, particularly in the Thailand plant, during the transformation and investment in the Silverton plant.

He said the Silverton plant is currently operating at about 80 repairs per 1 000 vehicles while the Thailand plant is at eight repairs per 1 000 and some Ford vehicle lines are at two repairs per 1 000 vehicles.

Heunis said that at 80 repairs per 1 000 vehicles, the Silverton plant is “midway in terms of the ‘Best in Ford’”.

“Ford’s top notch plants are below 10 repairs per 1 000 vehicles while all plants above 150 to 200 repairs per 1 000 vehicles are ‘out of sync’,” he said.

Heunis said the Silverton plant is aiming to get to the same production quality level as Thailand.

“The expectation is that our plant by the end of 2022 will be at a 90% first time through [without repairs] and to be producing the same as Thailand – below 10 repairs per 1 000 – in time for the launch of the new P703 [Ranger] because we need sustainability in our facilities.

“By the end of next year we have to be on target,” he said.

Eye on sustainability of operations

Heunis said quality production and low cost-per-unit production are vital to secure future manufacturing contracts and Ford is comparing the Silverton plant to Thailand’s manufacturing.

“We supply 80% of our vehicles into Europe. Thailand is knocking on the door to get into Europe because they have the capacity,” he said.

Heunis said an analysis of the Silverton plant resulted in the decision to invest further in the plant.

He said part of this investment is in a new highly automated body shop, new stamping and chassis plants, and a new paint shop and trim line that will cater for a production volume of 180 000 vehicles a year from 2023.

Heunis said almost 60% of Ford’s quality concerns in South Africa are related to its supplier base and a decision was taken by Ford to bring more under its direct control as it moves towards the launch of the new Ranger.

“Our chassis and our body suppliers have not been meeting the specification of the Ford Motor Company. We had to bring that inhouse.

“We’re building a completely new body because our current body shop does not produce the right level of quality and that is a copy and paste of Thailand.

“The chassis is the core of the vehicle. Anything of that that is out of spec or slightly out of spec, is where your rattles and squeaks [come from],” he said.

Heunis added that there are a handful of key suppliers Ford had to bring to South Africa and large investments have gone into the Tshwane Automotive SEZ to enable them to start supplying the plant on a just-in-time basis from there.

Logistics chain

This will drastically reduce the Silverton plant’s logistics chain and lead to quality improvements, he said.

If the Silverton plant finds something wrong in the vehicles, it currently has to stop production and contain the problem – it has 60 days’ worth of stock in the country, but parts have to be flown in from overseas.

Heunis said there will be “huge benefits” from being able to walk across the road to their suppliers and ask them about the problem.

Read:

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He added that there have been significant changes to the Silverton plant as a result of the investments. “We’re on a very steep trajectory and the expectation is that in the next year and half we will meet our new requirement, which is to produce at the same [quality and cost] as Thailand.

“If we don’t, there is a very good chance we will lose a lot of business in South Africa. We can’t afford to do that.”

Heunis said that between 2008 and 2010, Ford Motor Company SA was at about 450 repairs per 1 000 vehicles but this has improved to 84 repairs per 1 000 vehicles with the continuous improvement drive.

He stressed that the plant will not meet the target of fewer than 10 repairs per 1 000 vehicles in the remaining year of the model life of the existing Ranger – but said they will be implementing everything they have learnt during the lifecycle of this model and replicate it for the new model to hopefully start production at a much lower base.

On the right track

“Our graphs are saying that we are on the right track in terms of continuous improvement and repairs, cost and warranty spend.

“In the past we did not react like we should have but pretty much from 2010 we have got better and better,” he said.

Global market research and public opinion company Ipsos conducted annual vehicle quality satisfaction surveys in South Africa up until 2018 but discontinued them after several manufacturers withdrew their participation.

In 2018, Ford Silverton plant was awarded a silver medal in the category of best local plant producing light commercial vehicles.

The survey found that it had 75 problems per 1 000 vehicles. Toyota’s plant in Prospecton in Durban, with 63 problems per 1 000 vehicles, was the best plant in this category.

The Ipsos study calculated the quality score based on customer’s feedback at about three months after the purchase of the vehicle.

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