Isuzu consolidates production

A major slice of South Africa autotive history is being consigned to the books with the move by Isuzu Motors South Africa to leave the Kempston Road, Port Elizabeth plant and consolidate its manufacturing operations at its Struandale facility.

The R27-million project of relocating the Isuzu truck production facilities from Kempston Road in Port Elizabeth to Isuzu Motors South Africa’s headquarters in Struandale, Port Elizabeth, ensures all bakkie and truck manufacturing now takes place under one roof.

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The relocation follows the official merging of Isuzu’s truck and bakkie business in February last year with the establishment of one company, Isuzu Motors South Africa.

Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Michael Sacke, said having both Isuzu production facilities under one roof has many advantages – including driving a common team culture and the optimisation of shared resources.

After 21 years of truck production at Kempston Road, it was the end of an era when the last truck rolled off the production line on 30 November 2018.

“We started with regular production of our market-leading trucks at their new home in Struandale in January 2019. These changes have resulted in greater efficiencies in terms of our manufacturing support resources and an opportunity to improve the application of our lean manufacturing system,” says Sacke.

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It took many months to study, plan and execute the truck plant move and offered the ideal opportunity to correct historical layout inefficiencies, said the Manufacturing and Supply Chain Executive, Johan Vermeulen.

“Materials are now stored closer to the truck line which reduces travel distances substantially. This improves efficiency and eliminates waste and unnecessary cost. We also used the opportunity to work together with our source plant to change the way that material is packed, providing us with easier access to the correct material at the correct time. We also came up with some innovative solutions with regards to material storage,” said Vermeulen.

Compared to the Kempston Road location, a 50% improvement in space utilisation under one roof was achieved, and a 22% improvement in the overall amount of space required.

Managed by Isuzu Motors South Africa’s internal team using local contractors, site preparation took around eight months (Phase 1) followed by the relocation, commissioning and start-up of the truck facility in just seven weeks (Phase 2). Phase 2 took place during the shutdown period, which also included in-depth training for the truck manufacturing team.

By positively promoting a single company culture, the new modern site will allow for shared production learning.

“By uniting the two manufacturing facilities, the end result will be even better, that is, quality products and services to both our truck and bakkie customers,” Vermeulen concluded.

Isuzu’s investment in South Africa a year ago preserved 1 000 direct jobs and secured around 4 000 jobs through its network of 80 dealers in South Africa and 35 dealers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Isuzu also ensured the continuity of business with around 430 direct and indirect suppliers; while managing its smooth transition to new operations and to a new dealer network.

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The company successfully transitioned to new Information Technology systems and moved its engineering equipment from Kempston Road to the Vehicle Conversion and Distribution Centre in Markman Township in Port Elizabeth. Furthermore, Isuzu’s dealer network also went through major changes in line with its dedicated focus of providing the right solutions to light commercial vehicle, SUV and commercial vehicle customers.

“As we look towards future growth, Isuzu is keen to play its part in the economic development, growth and transformation of South Africa along with our customers, dealer network and partners. As a company we experienced a wave of positive change throughout the organisation both operationally, strategically and in the market place,” says Sacke.

In 2018, Isuzu expanded its product portfolio in Southern Africa through the addition of the new SUV competitor, the Isuzu mu-X. The 40-year-old KB bakkie’s name changed to D-MAX, aligning to the global naming convention with a new, enhanced D-MAX hitting the market at the same time.

For the first time in 2018, Isuzu became the highest volume selling truck brand in South Africa. Additionally, Isuzu has occupied the number one position in the medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicle segment of the South African market for six years in a row.

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Efforts rewarded

Nissan South Africa managing director, Mike Whitfield, has warned that although the company will continue to invest, industrial action could lead to decreased international support making other countries better manufacturing propositions.

He was speaking at a function at which Nissan was rewarded for its efforts with regard to economic growth and job creation by the Capital City Business Chamber (CCBC) in the form of the 2017 CCBC Award for Manufacturing.

The CCBC, which was established in 2008, aims to encourage business development in the greater Tshwane region.

Nissan Group of Africa MD, Mike Whitfield, accepted the award and participated in a panel discussion about smart cities being a driver for economic growth.

“Nissan South Africa has been committed to skills development and job creation for decades with our Rosslyn, Pretoria plant and we are proud of this award that recognises our much-needed contribution to economic development,” he says.

The automotive industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the local economy and contributed 7,5% of South Africa’s GDP of R3,99-trillion in 2015. Vehicle and component production represents about 30% of SA’s manufacturing output.

“While we will continue to invest in the country, it must be said there are potential stumbling blocks in our future as frequent industrial action combined with a decrease in domestic and international support could make other countries a more lucrative option for vehicle manufacturer.”

He went on to highlight that South Africa remains a strong manufacturing destination for a variety of reasons that include access to Africa, a sophisticated financial services and business sector, relatively low production costs, well-developed logistics, government support, skills development programmes and excellent quality of locally produced vehicles.

In recent years, the Rosslyn plant, which employs 2 000 people, has been running an engineering training programme after Nissan realised there was a shortage of core skills in the motoring sector. Roughly 50% of the students selected to participate in the training programme are black women.

“There is great potential for growth locally and throughout Africa. We are optimistic about the long-term future of the automotive and manufacturing sectors, and Nissan will continue to do its part to stimulate economic growth and job creation well into the future,” says Whitfield.

Capacity upgraded

Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa (FMCSA) has invested more than R125-million to upgrade the 3 000-metre vehicle conveyor system at its Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria in order to increase its production capacity for the locally-built Ford Ranger and Everest.

The investment forms part of FMCSA’s manufacturing expansion plans to increase the plant’s capacity by 22% from 27 jobs/hour to 33 jobs/hour by January 2018, following the move to a two-vehicle facility last year when the Ford Everest joined the Ford Ranger on the Pretoria assembly line.

The new conveyor system, which began operating earlier this year, optimises the plant’s automated Electro Monorail System Webb conveyor between the body shop and paint shop, improving overall production efficiency by reducing stoppages.

This means fewer delays in production and an increase in the number of vehicles manufactured for the South African market, as well as for export to 148 markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Andreas Bruditz, area manager for the Body Shop, explained the new system improves the structural capability of the system by significantly reducing and, in some cases, eliminating interruptions between the two production areas.

“The new conveyor is based on similar systems employed at Ford assembly plants in Europe, using proven technology to maximise production efficiency and capacity.”

An additional benefit of the new system is the conveyor decouples the Body Shop from the Paint Shop, which allows one area to continue work should the other have a stoppage. The new conveyor has also created a buffer zone between the two areas, which allows for last minute body-panel adjustments and repairs to be made before the vehicles enter the Paint Shop.