Towing systems manu-facturer and distributor Thule Towing Systems South Africa (SA) has invested R2.5-million in two additional welding robots to ramp up the production capacity of its Pietermaritzburg plant to in excess of 100 000 units a year.
This helped drive the total yearly output of the global Thule group to in excess of two-million towbars.
The local Thule subsidiary acquired the welding robots from robotics manufacturer Yaskawa Southern Africa to meet growing demand from both local and international clients. The robots were installed in May.
The computer-controlled robots weld simultaneously, reducing the cycle time and increasing output.
One of the key growth drivers for the local Thule subsidiary has been the contract for the new Ford Ranger, for which it is the sole in-plant towbar provider in South Africa.
“With its massive 3 350 kg braked towing capability in 4 × 4 3.2 ℓ turbodiesel guise, the Ranger needed a towbar of unprecedented strength,” states Thule Towing Systems SA.
The towbar was developed in a long-term project involving Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA), Ford Australia, Thule Towing Systems SA and Thule’s international innovation centre and network in Sweden and Holland.
When put through its paces at Thule Towing Systems SA’s test facility, which was commissioned in August last year at a cost of R7-million, the Ranger towbar successfully underwent a four-million cycle test – double the local legal requirement of SANS 1501.
This test is performed at regular intervals on production units.
Today, about 800 of these towbars come out of the Pietermaritzburg plant each week, the majority of them going directly to FMCSA’s Silverton assembly plant. A percentage is also supplied to Europe for aftermarket use.
“South Africa is well estab-lished as a production hub for complete vehicles and it is important that we can supply appropriate product not only for the local market – a market which has a strong leaning towards an outdoor lifestyle and, therefore, a definite need for towing systems – but also for the export markets that the locally based original-equipment manufacturers service,” the company states.
It adds that the facility fits Thule’s philosophy of creating a broader engineering network, the core of which is the primary test rig in Holland, which opened in mid-2010 and is capable of testing in three-axis or, in other words, up and down, fore and aft and side to side.
Towbars can be tested either on or off the vehicles.
“The facility is considered the core of innovation for the Thule towbar brand and it is from here that nearly all new products are developed,” the company says.