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We help build a Ford

Ford production lines set the standard for a perfect mix between human and robotic assembly, writes BRYAN TURNER.

The revamped and upgraded Ford plant in Silverton is geared to make assembly faster, while also improving ergonomics for assembly line employees.

“This required a total rethink and re-engineering of many of our established production processes,” says Ockert Berry, VP of operations at Ford EMEA.

This upgrade facilitates a new addition to the Ranger line: The Ford Ranger Raptor. The assembly line continues to produce all the other Ranger and Everest models for both domestic and export markets.

Fully assembling over 500 vehicles per day, Ford’s Silverton plant adds a capacity of up to 168 000 cars produced per year.

Ford invited Gadget to participate in the assembly of a Raptor. Before getting to assemble the cars, we were given protective gloves which not only protected the guests, but the cars as well. This rule also applies to the assembly line employees, as Ford makes sure that only soft materials touch the body of the car. This also prevents the natural oils produced by one’s skin from getting on the car.

Ford placed guests at different stations of the assembly line, rotating to see two different stations. Each of these stations performs a task which is built on in the next station, as a standard assembly line works.

Technology comes in with the conveyor systems carrying he cars at a specific height to provide maximum comfort for employees working on the line. Every cable, part, and piece is barcoded for tracking, and scanned when fitted to the car, ensuring accountability long after the car is purchased. This adds up to around 750 parts which go into Rangers and Everests.

Fitting the back beds and tie downs on the back of the pick-ups was the job assigned to our station, which has a surprising amount of cabling underneath the tightly fitted back bed. There are also serious time constraints, so being quick at fitting these parts is vital to keep the assembly line going.

Specialised order sheets have subtle differences in the car’s configurations, such as 6 tie downs instead of 4, or a back bed with a bracket. Assembly line workers know exactly how many cables go underneath certain back beds and where they’re fitted.

The addition of 25 new robots – bringing the total to 115 – helps speed complex tasks along, which includes welding of the body sides, cab and rear load box. Small changes facilitate faster build times, like getting the chassis delivered to the line inverted which makes it much easier to work on the car.

“Upgrading the Silverton Assembly Plant has been a monumental task spanning more than a year and a half. It has truly pushed our engineering and production teams to come up with innovative and creative solutions,” says Berry.

Gadget participated in building more than a dozen cars, including two Raptors. The conclusion? Humans and robots still depend heavily on each other.

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