What it takes to build an engine at Ford SA’s prolific Struandale plant

Published Sep 27, 2023


While the world continues to look for viable alternatives to fossil fuel, for the foreseeable future at least, the demand for internal combustion engines continues unabated.

We experienced it first hand at Ford’s Struandale engine plant in Gqeberha recently where it assembled its four millionth engine since its first one came out of the plant in 1964.

During that time it has produced 11 different engines, including the 1.7-litre and 2.0-litre V4, the iconic Essex V6, as well as the 1.3L and 1.6L Kent four-cylinder engines.

Production statistics make for interesting reading as the plant ramped up its production over the years. The one-million engine mark was reached in 23 years (1987), with the two-millionth unit following 19 years later in 2006.

With significant investments and expanded production for the RoCam and Duratorq TDCi engine programs accelerating the plant’s output, it reached three million engines just eight years later in 2014, with the four-millionth unit emerging after a further nine years, in August 2023.

Currently it makes the Ranger’s 2.0-litre single and Bi-turbo diesel mills as well as the V6 power plant fitted to the top of the range Rangers (and VW Amarok) from 2022, following a R600-million investment.

It also continues to make the 2.2-litre and 3.2-litre Duratorq TDCi engines that were introduced in 2011 for the previous generation Ranger for export to regions where they are still used.

“The Struandale Engine Plant has been instrumental in Ford’s development and growth over the past 59 years, particularly for our export operations. The four million total engine production, along with the 300 000 2.0L Single Turbo and Bi-Turbo diesel engines assembled to date, are remarkable achievements,” said Ockert Berry, VP Operations, Ford South Africa.

In the eyes of Ford Global, just because you’ve been making engines for as long as memory serves, does not always guarantee that you’ll be doing so when the next round of updates comes along.

So in order to keep the lines rolling, the guys at Ford have had to be creative and innovative and according to Plant Manager Shawn Govender the V6 3.0-litre is a perfect example of that.

“The assembly line that produces the V6 turbo diesel engine for the new Ranger still assembles our existing Duratorq TDCi engines, making it the only facility of its kind in the Ford world that produces both V-configuration and in-line engines, as well as a combination of four, five and six-cylinder units, all on a single line.”

So relying on a flexible production format, with scheduled batches of the two different engine programs being assembled, the line incorporates 40 stations that are common to both platforms and a further 25 stations that are unique to the 3.0L V6 Diesel. The total installed capacity for this line is 130 000 engines per year.

With about 850 employees, the 2.0-litre SiT/BiT engine assembly line has an installed capacity for 120 000 units per year, resulting in a total capacity of up to 250 000 engines per annum for the plant, substantially more than the 30 000 engines it produced when it first opened.

I spent some time on the line, closely supervised mind you, installing the turbo heat-shields and some other odds and ends on the V6, followed by the fuel pump housing, and it’s not as easy as it looks.

It has to be spot on and the line keeps moving so you have only a certain time to do the job. Between remembering what sequence and size the bolts have to be put in, which direction the housing has to face and which pneumatic torque tool to grab when from above you, it’s a good thing that I’m an office jockey.

If you think blackouts are frustrating at home, try running an engine plant on stage whatever Eskom decides to move us to.

“It’s not just the actual time we’re off but we need at least an hour before to shut down the machines and another hour afterwards to get everything up to speed again,” said Govender.

“Power spikes are the worst though. It causes millions of rand worth of damage, keeping in mind that the equipment we use works to the finest of tolerances.”

Having wiped the sweat off our brows we headed to the far more sedate surroundings of The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).

Among 27 conservation, environmental education and research projects across Southern Africa, the Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF) has supported SANCCOB for a number of years financially and with a Ranger 4x4 double cab in Gqeberha and Cape Town to protect critically endangered African penguins along the coastline.

SANCCOB’s primary objective is to reverse the decline of seabird populations through the rescue and rehabilitation of sick, injured and oiled seabirds, including the endangered African penguin, and threatened and protected species such as the Cape gannet, African black oystercatcher, Cape cormorant and tern and gull species.

Once the birds have fully recovered, they are released back into the wild to bolster seabird populations.

As with almost all wild animals the news is generally not good with an alarming decline of the penguin population on St Croix and Bird Islands in Algoa Bay thanks to traditional fish stocks coming under pressure due to environmental changes, overfishing and the impact of shipping lanes near their colonies.

So again, it’s left up to corporate South Africa to ensure that we leave a vibrant and living ecosystem for those that come after us.

“The ongoing support from the Ford Wildlife Foundation and the provision of the Ford Ranger makes a huge difference in the daily operations of SANCCOB, as well as our ability to respond quickly to rescue and rehabilitate sick, injured and oiled seabirds and African penguins,” said Carl Havemann, manager of the SANCCOB Gqeberha Centre.

“African penguins are considered an indicator species for the health of the overall marine ecosystem, and we are committed to doing everything we can to protect these important populations in Algoa Bay.”