How Ford SA has improved quality control at its Gauteng plant
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PRETORIA: We’ve all been there. Around the braai fire, and the discussion turns to cars and how person A,B and C won’t ever touch another product from manufacturer A, B and C.
Whether it’s something that’s a minor irritation or a massive failure, almost everyone has a story to tell.
Gone are the days that it can be written off as a “Monday” car because all manufacturers are fighting for your hard-earned cash and can’t afford to be the troublesome one.
With that in mind, we got a rare glimpse into how Ford South Africa manages the quality assessment of vehicles it sells locally.
To say it’s a data analyst's dream is an understatement because there’s data and then there is quality assessment data that engineers drill down to the minutest detail.
To give you an idea how much the quality control has improved at Ford, manufacturers refer to it as repairs per 1000, so, before the Silverton plant started producing the current Ranger, Everest and Raptor 10 years ago, 400 units per 1 000 was the average. Currently it stands at 84 per 1000, a really significant improvement.
Taking their queue from the plant in Thailand, Ford’s quality control director Kevin Heunis says that once 200 000 new Rangers a year start rolling out of the local plant next year the aim is to bring the number down to eight per 1 000 by the end of 2022.
Heunis says that with the improvements to the plant and the Special Economic Zone adjacent to it built as part of a R15 billion investment, that number is reachable.
“We are going to build our own chassis on site and have also built our own stamping plant, having taken our suppliers along with us. That way we have full control and any quality issues can be addressed immediately.
“And, with Just In Time Parts, we can source immediately from the supply chain with minimal delay.”
But it’s not just vehicles that have recently left the plant that Ford focuses on. Heunis says they are continuing to apply best practice to ensure that all Ford owners have peace of mind when it comes to ownership and quality control.
Every time a vehicle goes to a dealer for something to be repaired or replaced under warranty, they log it and track it. If a trend starts to form, it gets further attention from the engineers who then start to fault-find.
It could be something minor like updating the software or, in the case of the 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine, injector failure. In that case, the fault lay in the quality of our fuel.
Ford sends the information up the decision-making chain to make a finding on a solution.
Economies of scale also play a part. Let’s say it sells 200 000 vehicles with the engine worldwide and only 250 engines in South Africa are playing up, the local team will come up with a solution as an after-market fit.
If anything becomes a global issue, a recall will be issued.
In fact, the engineers can drill down so far that it can determine in what particular region in South Africa the fuel quality is sub-standard.
An amusing sidebar was an issue with scratches at the rear of headliners fitted to the Everest.
Once the complaints started coming through, the investigation showed the headliners that were delivered over a weekend were stored in a specific area and cats were using it as a place to sleep.
Without that kind of data it would in all possibility have been put down to shoddy workmanship.
With connectivity standard across the globe, Ford can use its FordPass Connect system to investigate individual vehicles. If an issue rears its head on a specific model, it can use the data to monitor any further faults and if it happens during the assembly process, address it immediately on the line.
The company also looks at the time it takes from when you drop your car off for repairs till you get it back nicely washed and shiny.
In April 2020, it stood at 71 days and has now been reduced to 23 days.
A caveat to the number though are the number of municipal and SAPS vehicles standing idle in the workshop, because apparently there isn't a budget for repairs.
The next time you have a couple of beers and braai a boerie, keep in mind that apart from cars being mechanical and made of steel and aluminium, which means things do break, know there’s a large team behind it doing their best to ensure they don't.