• 23 June is International Women in Engineering Day.
• Kgothatso Kabene is a Plant Launch Engineer at Ford SA's plant in Pretoria.
• She's involved in the production of the new, next-generation Ranger bakkie.
It's often incorrectly assumed that robots and other automated machines are entirely responsible for the assembly of modern vehicles. Not enough credit is given to those highly qualified individuals who work inside the plants. While automation is on the rise, the success of the finished product still relies on the human element.
International Women in Engineering Day, on 23 June, sees Wheels24 pay tribute to 31-year-old Kgothatso Kabene, a Plant Launch Engineer in the Body Shop at Ford's Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria.
Kgothatso is closely involved with the launch of the next-generation Ranger, which will be exported to over 100 different markets and is expected to arrive in South Africa towards the end of this year.
We recently drove the new Ranger in Thailand; you can read the review here.
Kgothatso Kabene admits that her involvement in the motor industry wasn't influenced by any of her three siblings or peer groups. While completing her degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Johannesburg, she still firmly believed her career path would end up in design. However, her career would carve out a new path in 2012 when she did her experiential training in the automotive industry. In 2016 Kgothatso was appointed as a Process Technician at a prominent manufacturer and soon after moved to Ford, holding the same position. She has even bigger ambitions for her future and her studies.
Wheels24 spoke with Kgothatso to understand some of the unique challenges of her job, including being a woman in what many still consider a male-dominated industry.
Wheels24: What does International Women in Engineering Day mean to you?
Kgothatso Kabene (KK): "To me, it means that we are allowed to showcase our capabilities and to work in an environment where it has been deemed as a male-dominated industry. It shows that the engineering field is not gender-based anymore and that anyone can do it."
W24: Can you describe your job as a Plant Launch Engineer?
KK: "On a typical day, a Plant Launch Engineer helps coordinate the launch of the new vehicle. Part of my job is to ensure that equipment and stations are ready by the time we hand it over to production, with zero concerns or issues. At all stages, the vehicle has its control plan - the functionality and the dimensional record are within the quality specifications.
"We then ensure that the production and maintenance personnel are trained for what they're supposed to do on the job and how it's supposed to be done. This includes giving them the proper documentation and Operator Instruction Sheets."
W24: What do you find rewarding or interesting about your job?
KK: "I find it very interesting because you can see the process of the new vehicle - from the designing phase to the final product. At each and every step, you can see all the challenges the team faces and how they find solutions. We know that at the end of the day, we'll have a good quality vehicle, which is very fulfilling."
W24: Can you mention some of the challenges you encounter in your job?
KK: "The challenges come from the fact that we need to constantly get information and feedback from cross-functional teams and understand where and why they might be experiencing problems. The job requires one to get the information from the relevant departments and understand where assistance is needed to meet the control plan."
W24: Has the plant engineer job changed or evolved over the years?
KK: "There will be a lot less manual alterations in the future. I believe that in the future, it will be easier to diagnose the problem because of fewer human errors."
W24: Looking ahead at the next-generation Ranger, how does the new bakkie make you feel?
KK: "I like that the next-gen Ranger has already created many opportunities and helped grow employment in the country. It is the vehicle that made it possible for me to be a Plant Launch Engineer and has helped me understand how a car is introduced and then launched to the public."
W24: Do you have any advice for the younger female generation wanting to pursue a career in the automotive industry?
KK: "Know what you want and go for it! No matter what people say about the industry being for males, women can do it just as well!
It still comes with some challenges because there's still a little bit of stereotyping about women engineers, but as long as you believe in yourself, you can do it."