Brink Towing Systems South Africa recently produced their 10 000th towbar for a Ford Ranger Raptor, and as soon as life returns to normal, it’ll form part of the next shipment to the Ford plant outside Pretoria.
The Raptor is designed to be one of the toughest bakkies in every which way and that includes the towbar. The Brink plant in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal currently produces some 7 000 towbars a month for various Ford Ranger models, and in the same way the Raptor differs markedly from other Rangers, so too does the towbar. In fact, it is a completely different design, which necessitated a clean-sheet approach.
Robotic welding contributes significantly to the high tolerances achieved in Brink’s Pietermaritzburg plant. The Yaskawa Motoman MH24 arc welding robot has been installed to increase productivity and to minimise wear
“In conjunction with Ford in Australia, we started working on the Ranger Raptor towbar as a design project some four years ago – something which continued even after Ford Australia’s car manufacturing plant closed,” said Mark Gutridge, Managing Director of Brink Towing Systems SA, a joint venture company with the Brink Group, that is headquartered in Holland.
“Research and development was shared, and regular consultation and input from our Pietermaritzburg engineering team and Ford’s Australian engineering department resulted in a design that not only met the styling requirements but also those of the regulatory and manufacturing requirements. Because Ford South Africa’s key export market is Europe, it made sense for Brink to use its global resources to ensure the towbars from here met the European requirements,” added Gutridge.
Brink Towing Systems produces more than 2 000 different types of towbars and develops about 200 new towbars annually. To date, more than 25 million vehicles (all types of vans and cars) have already been equipped with a Brink towbar and/or cable set
“A number of refinements were made to the initial design, including focussing on torch access for optimal weld integrity. Ease of fitment on the assembly line was also something we had to consider too.”
The Raptor towbar is robot-welded in its entirety and in terms of the level of accuracy required, is one of the most complicated when it comes to tolerances and ergo programming requirements. Of particular importance were the bumper-mounting points which have a tolerance of just 2mm and was made possible thanks to the state-of-the-art, Yaskawa computer-controlled welding robots at the Pietermaritzburg plant.
One of the styling revisions was a change to the end caps. This was done to protect the paint from stone chipping. Delivery of finished towbars started in February 2019, with Raptor launching locally in early June 2019 after initial export orders were met.
At 35 kilograms, the Raptor bar is slightly lighter than the Ranger one, which is dominated by a robust 6mm thick beam that runs the width of the vehicle and is very much the rearview signature of the original Ranger. But, because the Raptor’s rear axle is supported on coil rather than leaf springs, there was scope for a completely different bar design and, in fact, most of it is tucked away out of sight.
The Raptor towbar is robot-welded in its entirety. Of particular importance were the bumper-mounting points which have a tolerance of just 2mm and was made possible thanks to the state-of-the-art, Yaskawa computer-controlled welding robots
Whereas the Ranger uses the aforementioned solid bar with a plate to which the ball is bolted, the Raptor has a NAS-type (North American Spec) system with a transition fit where the separate ball hitch slides into a matching square receiver and is then secured with a locking pin. Thanks to this, the ball can be removed and stowed when not in use.
What they have in common though is that they are designed to last even when subjected to the toughest conditions. The Raptor towbars are highly corrosion resistant and are e-coated and then powder-coated. Additionally, both integrate seamlessly with the trailer recognition hardware fitted to certain Ranger models and comply with the most stringent international legal requirements for towbars.
“We’re particularly proud of the Raptor bar. It symbolises what we’re capable of, whether it be design, engineering or manufacturing. It is world-class in every possible way,” concluded Gutridge.