Installing a sense of fear or trepidation into one’s fellow man is often limited to a few choice words or a single phrase delivered in a threatening or coarse way that leaves little doubt as to what the eventual outcome would be.
Unlike the usual array of gruff adjectives and expressions that are unmentionable in a family friendly newspaper, it was in fact the line “these engines will be going into actual production Rangers”, spoken by the Production Manager of the Ford Struandale Engine Plant in Port Elizabeth, Ziyaad Isaacs, that had this writer quivering in his rapidly uncomfortable feeling supplied factory boots.
Whether this turned out to be true or was mentioned merely as a way of upping the anxiety levels past breaking point, it all culminated into an experience of a different kind when the Blue Oval hosted the media at its world renowned plant in the Friendly City last week to help with the build of the single-and-bi-turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel engine that powers the locally built Ranger, Everest and of course the Ranger Raptor.
Established as an engine producing facility in 1964 with a total of 10 different engines derivatives having been produced during this time, Struandale, along with the Ranger and Everest assembly plant in Silverton outside Pretoria, were subjected to an expansive R3-billion investment upgrade three years ago in order to meet increasing demand from not only South Africa, but also key export markets across Africa and also in Europe, Asia and North America.
Capable of producing 120 000 engines per year with one complete unit rolling out of the factory every 134 seconds, it was fair to say that the greater majority of the plant’s near-on 800 employees working in the 3 868 m2 production hall at 110 stations on the 312 m long assembly line were not expecting to have their workload eased much when we reported for duty.
In fact, with a claimed output of 320 engine per day, it was highly unlikely that the target would be met with us lot in attendance. Nonetheless with Ziyaad’s words still ringing in my ear and after a briefing from Plant Manager Shawn Govender with Ford Motor Company Southern Africa Managing Director Neale Hill also in attendance, we entered the plant as the sheer magnitude of what we were about to do hit hard.
Split in several groups of two, it was fair to say that my partner and I got the ‘’easy’’ part which involved pumping eight litres of oil into the complete engines that rolled slowly in front of us on an automated stand. A process that normally takes 132 seconds to complete, it required filling the oil reservoir using an overhead gantry nozzle and paying close attention to an LCD monitor in front of us with various readouts.
Once filled, we had to remove the nozzle, put the oil cap back on and turn the engine around on the stand to signal the end of the pro cess, while remembering to press the finish button on a secondary panel that indicated the engine’s readiness for the next task.
In fact, the only tricky bit was selecting the correct nozzle as a different grade is used for the single and bi-turbo engines. As plain sailing as matters had been until now, switching places with our media colleagues soon turned everything around as the very engines we had just filled-up, now had to be cold weather tested in a specially made cell.
Connecting the engine to a series of pipes, electronic connectors and most importantly, two thin metal rods with magnetised tips to test noise, vibration and harshness levels, the process really became tricky as memorising which connector and pipe went onto what part of the engine had us scrabbling to do it before our 300 seconds ran out. Unexpectedly, we failed but fortunately, matters did improve the second time around, albeit slightly.
Our shift over, we then had a tour of the plant where witnessing the engine being casted from a block of steel into what we know as a fully functioning powerunit was simply amazing, a true work of art involving man and machine.
It had been an incredible day of not only learning what goes into the building of an engine, but developing a new appreciation for the men and woman who do it on a daily basis in order to keep the wheels of every new Ford Ranger rolling, literally.
As petrified as some of us were at the beginning of the day, the exact opposite feeling at the end prevailed as smiles were the order of the day, along with a few sore feet, after a truly unique and different view of the automotive industry.
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