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Meet Kgothatso Kabene, Ford SA’s engineer working on next-generation Ford Ranger

31-year-old Kgothatso Kabene, a Plant Launch Engineer in the Body Shop at Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria, is closely involved with the launch of the next-generation Ford Ranger.

The bakkie will be exported to over 100 different markets and is expected to arrive in South Africa towards the end of this year. 

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Kgothatso Kabene, according to News24, 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.

“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,” Kgothatso reveals.

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.

Kgothatso is heavily involved in the upcoming launch of the all-new Ford Ranger. The launch is only a few months away in South Africa. 

While automation is on the rise, the success of the finished product still relies on the human element. Kgothatso opened up about her daily routine at the assembly plant, revealing that inasmuch as robots are part of the vehicle building equation, human interaction and skill still plays major role.

“In future, 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.

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“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,” she explains.

“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.”

Although she finds her job interesting, the terrain comes with its own package of challenges which she needs to overcome.

“I find this job 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.

Kgothatso Kabene, a Plant Launch Engineer in the Body Shop at Ford’s Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria

“However, 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.”

Revealing her key role in the next-generation Ford Ranger bakkie, Kgothatso had this to say: “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.”

As for young girls still figuring out their future career paths, Kgothatso has some words of advice: “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.”