SA-built bakkie: How Isuzu’s KB is homegrown in PE

<B>HOW IT'S MADE:</B> The KB has proudly been built at GMSA’s plant in Struandale, Port Elizabeth, for almost 40 years. <I>Image: Isuzu</I>
<B>HOW IT'S MADE:</B> The KB has proudly been built at GMSA’s plant in Struandale, Port Elizabeth, for almost 40 years. <I>Image: Isuzu</I>

Port Elizabeth - So, Isuzu has done well in the latest Ipsos Quality Awards for sales and service experience in the Light Commercial Vehicle (LCV) segment.

These awards measure vehicle owners’ satisfaction when purchasing and servicing a vehicle and Isuzu scooped two gold awards in this segment: for Purchasing Experience (LCV) and Servicing Experience (LCV).

The brand also earned the platinum award for consistently achieving excellence in the LCV Purchasing Experience after achieving gold status four years in a row.

READ: Ipsos esults - Bakkies vs. passenger cars in SA

But what has this got to do with the building of Isuzu’s LCV contender, the KB bakkie, locally?

Quality and durability

Well, according to Brian Olson, vice president of General Motors sub-Saharan and South Africa sales, service and marketing, it again proves “the ability of the men and women assembling the KB here to not only build in durability, but quality too”.

The KB has proudly been built at GMSA’s plant in Struandale, Port Elizabeth, for almost 40 years.

Olsen said: “Our skilled workforce knows what it takes to build a bakkie."

READ: Beefed-up Isuzu - New KB gets Arctic Truck treatment

He further explained that GMSA spends more than 60 000 hours per year to train technical staff with critical skills to improve the overall quality of their products. 

“We pride ourselves in supporting our customers and their Isuzu’s with factory trained technicians. Isuzu has an outstanding reputation for being trustworthy and reliable,” said Olson. “We are committed to provide our customers with service of the highest standard.”

Building ‘blocks’

This training by GMSA is dedicated to the integration of their plant operators into GM’s global manufacturing approach - a strategy that has changed the way the company designs its products, lays out its facilities, select its equipment and design each plant operator's job.

And it starts at a very elementary level - literally “building” a vehicle using wooden building blocks.

Earlier in August 2016, we were invited to GMSA’s Struandale plant to gain first-hand experience of how aspirant assembly line operators are trained in a simulated workplace.

READ: ‘Fifty bells’ toll twice - 10 things you should know about Isuzu in SA

As safety in the plant is paramount, we were kitted out with reflective jackets, gloves and safety glasses, even watch covers, before being allowed to enter the dedicated training centre.

In the centre, consisting of two “assembly lines” with “vehicles” and “parts” made of wooden blocks, parts trolleys, overhead rope lines and a plethora of information boards, we were met by GM training instructors - our “team leaders” for the exercise.

They first guided us through the company’s manufacturing system, called the GM Global Manufacturing System - or GMS - explaining its importance as building block in an integrated manufacturing approach.

With the GMS the best, most competitive manufacturing practices from around the world are brought together and leveraged to establish a common manufacturing system for all GM’s plants and facilities.

It is a dynamic system, and is built around people, stressing the value of teamwork, and is based on the philosophy that everyone in every position adds value. 

The operator, the person that builds the products, is centre to the system and processes are designed around him or her - providing support to the teams on the plant floor. 

Many factors played a role in the evolution of the GMS, including the experience gained through NUMMI, a joint venture with Toyota in the USA, which introduced the Toyota Production System (TPS) techniques into GM.

The consistent application of five principles - people involvement, standardisation, built-in quality, short lead time and continuous improvement - improves manufacturing performance.

These principals are interrelated and implemented as a complete system consisting of: People, safety, quality, customer responsiveness and cost.

After this the line system was explained to us: This allows for direct-to-the-line delivery of material, and quality management through the Andon system - requesting assistance or even stopping production if necessary to remedy problems. 

Cost saving, by eliminating all forms of waste and pursuing leanness in all facets of production, was also highlighted before we were allowed on the line...

Meeting targets

Divided up into two teams, we took our respective positions next to the line, ready to produce “bakkies”. 

The target? To “build” 14 complete vehicles from the available “parts” - fitting badges, steering wheels, wheels, instruments and mirrors - in 15 minutes, without any mistakes or faults… and with keeping safety in mind.

Our first effort was miserable, to say the least. Not only did we not reach the build target, we also didn’t fare well in terms of safety, quality and cost standards.

READ: New KB X-Rider bakkie - A 'special kind of workhorse' in SA

Luckily our subsequent efforts were better, and soon the ugly red crosses behind the different categories (safety, quality and cost) changed to nice green ticks. And we also reached the production target.

This exercise also enriched our plant tour, as we now understood the system, and what it entails. 

Seeing the operators and systems in action, it was clear why the Isuzu bakkie scores so high on quality – and is in the top three in terms of local sales, with 1297 KBs sold in July 2016.

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