Pretoria - Come spend some time on the line in the factory and build a Raptor they said. It will be fun they said.
What they didn’t say was that there would be a heatwave in Silverton, Pretoria on the day, we would be wearing industrial steel toe-cap boots, a reflector vest, gloves and working on the line just as thousands of Ford employees do every day.
All I can say after that was much respect and a whole new understanding of how the cars we drive and get to test are put together.
It wasn’t so much a launch in the sense that we know it, but more a unique look in to how Ford’s much anticipated Raptor and upgraded Ranger and Everest will be assembled for both local and international distribution.
It also gave us an opportunity to see the R3-billion that Ford has invested in the last 18 months in upgrades to the plant up close and personal.
Henry Ford was the first person to implement the conveyor belt style of assembly while modern technology and innovative thinking has almost perfected the efficiencies, so I reckon the process we witnessed and were a part of would have received a big thumbs up from him.
Except there wasn’t just one model on the line or for that matter any colour as long as it was black, as he is famously quoted as saying.
This, to me at least, was one of the outstanding features of the day. It’s not as though there’s a batch of Rangers, Everests or Raptors coming through, it’s a complete mishmash of models as orders are pushed through.
As each employee at the different work stations assembles whichever part they are assigned to it’s all there, whether it be a dashboard with left or right hand drive, single cab, double cab, 2.2 litre, 3.2 litre or 2 litre engine, automatic gearbox or manual, load bay lining or no lining, the assembly line doesn’t hesitate for a moment, all you have to do is turn around, pick up the piece and slot it in to its place.
A mind boggling logistical feat to be sure and they turn out almost 10 000 vehicles a month.
It’s also made possible by modular assembly of machines and components at some of the suppler companies with only installation taking place at Silverton as well as sub assembly zones for the engines, suspension, axles and doors.
The door shells are diverted to another line where all components, rubbers and switches are installed while the rest of the vehicle gets put together on the main line. With the doors off workers have unhindered access to move around and work inside the cabin.
There’s a conveyor system that offloads the seats outside the factory, places them on another belt that then transports them through the roof for fitment to an almost complete car.
Once the finished product has been pushed through the water sprayers to check for leaks, it’s time for the rattle and squeak test track with various surfaces to check for external, internal and chassis noises as well as panel alignment. A hill test allows only six clicks on the handbrake to prevent it from rolling back before the vehicle can pass muster.
On the day 15 Raptors were built as part of pre-production as the system is tweaked to allow for best practice before production hits full swing next year.
So what happens once they have been built and tested? they’re crushed, shredded, destroyed... that’s what. While a Sars official looks on.
And despite my protestations and alternative arguments while I tried to convince them that I was made to own a Raptor, management were having none of it.
Oh well, back to station 22 with my hydraulic drill with the ever-present noise of robots welding away in the body shop and the clank and clunk of a factory working at full pace.