As part of Ford’s R15.8-billion investment in its Silverton Assembly Plant operations, a completely new high-tech Body Shop has been constructed featuring the highest-ever levels of automation and quality control for the facility, which will be producing the next-generation Ford Ranger for domestic sales and export to more than 100 markets globally.
The new 44 000m2 Body Shop and its supporting warehouse are located adjacent to the recently completed Stamping Plant, providing a seamless flow of stamped panels to the line where the body and load compartment of the Ranger pick-up are assembled and welded.
“Building a new Body Shop was essential for the Silverton Assembly Plant to achieve our highest installed capacity to date of 200 000 vehicles per year,” says Ockert Berry, VP Operations for Ford South Africa. “This necessitated a much higher level of automation to reach our production targets, while also introducing the latest quality control systems and technologies that are essential for delivering consistent, world-class quality vehicles for our local and export customers.”
The new highly automated production line is designed around 493 robots that transform the numerous stamped body panels – including the underbody, floor, roof, body sides, cab framing and load box – into a complete Ranger body, ready for transfer to the Paint Shop. The robotic welding guarantees the highest level of consistency, employing the latest 100-percent adaptive controllers with servo guns to deliver spatter-free body welds. The plant manufactures a wide variety of configurations including Single Cab, SuperCab and Double Cab, as well as left-hand drive and right-hand drive derivatives.
“Designing and building our new Body Shop from the ground up has allowed us to integrate IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things) into the manufacturing areas. This gives our production teams access to in-depth and always up-to-date analysed data trends, which allows them to make concise decisions to consistently improve productivity and quality,” says Adheer Thakurpersad, Area Manager for the Body Shop.
Significant investment has been made in quality control technologies, including two inline Perceptron measuring systems that measure and record every vehicle manufactured in Body Shop along with their respective Geometric pallets that they are assembled on. Vision systems attached to sealer application robots provides further error-proofing, supporting Ford’s commitment to setting an even higher standard for quality, reliability and durability with the next-gen Ranger. Even the handling of the vehicle body during construction has been automated on the line, totally eliminating the need to move parts manually which could result in damage.
As with the new Stamping Plant, Body Shop is equipped with the sophisticated GOM ATOS ScanBox blue light scanner system that provides a full 3D body scan for comparison with a stored design specification to highlight any potential issues. Furthermore, a twin-column fixed bed CMM (coordinate measurement machine) performs a range of probe measurements that are accurate down to microns, or thousandths of a millimetre, to ensure that production remains within specification. The team also has access to a portable FaroArm CMM, and a portable GOM unit.
“To assess our weld quality, we conduct non-destructive testing and ultrasonic verifications, and we have a fully equipped destructive teardown facility to test the integrity of the weld spots,” Thakurpersad explains.
It’s not just the high-tech equipment and systems that contribute to quality and efficiency, as the production team continues to play a critical role, with the Body Shop team comprising 38 salaried and 500 hourly employees. “Being in a highly automated environment, ongoing skills development is a priority,” Thakurpersad adds. “Therefore we have plans to install an advanced skills development facility in the body construction area, which will enable employees to continue developing their skills in automation and problem-solving.”
Click here to view the video of Ford’s new Body Shop: https://youtu.be/JsWsx3W3MVw