Ford reckons this robot is the ultimate braai master

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Dec 26, 2021

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Pretoria - You might consider yourself to be the ultimate braai master this December holiday, but don’t too carried away because Ford South Africa wants to replace you with a machine.

Meet TCF BBQ, whose name stands for Braai Boerewors Quickly, and not that silly word that our overseas counterparts use to refer to the act of braaing. This robot, stationed at Ford SA’s assembly plant in Silverton, Gauteng, might not be able to respond to your ridiculous request for a well-done steak, but it can braai 120 pieces of meat in 12 minutes.

TCF BBQ, which can calmly flip and move grills around with speed and precision, is the result of an internal competition held by Ford SA, where various departments were encouraged to design something unique using whatever scrap materials and decommissioned tooling they could find and was available at the plant.

Inspired by Heritage Day, area line manager Claude Roux came up with the ambitious idea of transforming one of the robots into a braai bot. Roux had only one non-negotiable: safety compliance.

“This was when the innovation and curiosity of that ‘small child’ inside all of us came to life,” explains Roux. “We took our knowledge of braaing and our understanding of manufacturing vehicles and married the two to create a machine with the ability to pick up and manipulate the meat on a grill.

“We decided to use a Fanuc robot that was due to be disposed of during the extensive Silverton Assembly Plant upgrades, along with scrap metal, discarded wood pallets for a base, metal trolleys for braais and a Siemens Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) for the controls. We had a qualified electrician, qualified fitter, PLC programmer, and a controls specialist working on it for around four weeks during the plant shutdown,” explains Roux.

Emulating the smooth moves of a braai master was the next challenge, and according to its maker, the TCF BBQ hasn’t dropped a piece of meat, yet. The robot is programmed to place the grill on one of three braai stations surrounding the unit, then turn the grill after a set time. It can offload the grill from the braai onto the braai station, which was manufactured using a scrapped Ford Ranger Wildtrak bumper and grille.

Furthermore, the robot can flash the headlights and park lights as well as indicate and beep the horn, but its talents don’t end there. TCF BBQ can also pour water or cooldrink and serve a full tray to people. And as a final touch befitting of a proudly South African robot, it can wave the national flag.

“TCF BBQ has become a celebrity here at Ford South Africa, and is a perfect example of the creativity and ingenuity that defines everyone at Ford and echoes our proudly South African heritage,” said Ford SA Operations VP Ockert Berry.

“This competition brought out a strong yet friendly rivalry that saw various teams working together in secrecy until the reveal date. Now TCF BBQ has hung up his apron and has been dismantled, but a next-generation version can’t be ruled out. Maybe we will see a new version to coincide with the launch of the next-generation Ranger,” Berry hinted.

But what we really want to see is a showdown with a human braai master. Are you up to the challenge, Jan Braai?

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