Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA) has upgraded the wheel and tyre facility at its Silverton assembly plant, in Pretoria.
The plant produces the Ranger pickup and Everest sports-utility vehicle for the domestic market, as well as more than 100 export markets.
Construction of the new, larger wheel and tyre facility, which spans almost 5 000 m2, started in September last year, with the aim of replacing the existing 2 993 m2 facility.
The new facility began operations just before South Africa went into a national Covid-19 lockdown in March.
However, with the Silverton plant back up and running since the beginning of June, the benefits of the new facility are becoming evident.
“We are always working on ways to enhance our production processes to make the plant more efficient, reduce our cycle times, improve capacity, and offer the best working conditions for our employees,” says FMCSA operations VP Ockert Berry.
“The decision to build a new wheel and tyre facility was based on all of these objectives, with the clean-sheet design allowing us to incorporate the latest technologies and equipment to optimise our current operations, and easily introduce future upgrades and expansion when required.”
A new location for the facility, closer to the trim, chassis and final (TCF) line where the vehicles are assembled, helps to shorten the route and time required to deliver the fitted wheels and tyres to the assembly line.
The facility also now incorporates an adjacent storage area for the large number of tyres and rims that are fed onto a conveyor in the main building for fitment, thereby improving the flow of raw materials.
“The new facility has allowed us to increase production efficiency and to handle greater complexity for the wide range of rims and tyres fitted to the Ranger and Everest models,” says FMCSA TCF vehicle operations manufacturing engineering manager Yuliia Varchuk.
The Silverton plant currently assembles about 480 vehicles a day based on two eight-hour shifts, which translates to around 2 400 tyres fitted on rims and supplied to the TCF line daily.
“With a fitted wheel and tyre coming out of this facility approximately every 15 seconds, the fitment and balancing needs to be seamlessly integrated into our overall workflow, and the new facility has significantly improved our productivity in this area,” adds Varchuk.
“This will be further enhanced when an overhead wheel and tyre delivery conveyor installation is completed by September next year. This conveyor will feed assembled wheels and tyres from the new facility directly to the vehicle assembly point-of-fit in sequence, replacing the current manual delivery process, which will help reduce traffic in the plant.”
The new wheel and tyre facility is able to fit a wide range of sizes. It currently handles nine rim variants, comprising steel or alloy, and a total of 20 tyre options, ranging from 15-inch to 20-inch diameters.
The specialised rims and reinforced, high-performance off-road tyres used on the Ranger Raptor pose an additional challenge as they weigh a hefty 40 kg for each fitted unit, but the facility is geared to easily handle this.
The wheel and tyre facility is almost entirely automated, with the supply of the appropriate rims and tyres electronically synchronised according to the plant’s daily build schedule, taking into account the final destination market and each vehicle’s unique specification.
The tyres are fitted to the corresponding rims by four robotic fitment stations, with newly installed automated rim and tyre handling aids improving the ergonomics of the line.
The balancing is also fully automated using CIMAT balancers with turnover stations and audit balancers, with either one-piece knock-on or adhesive stick-on weights used in increments of five grams to achieve the perfect ride quality.