- The robotic braai, or barbeque, represents South Africa’s heritage with a modern high-tech twist
- The programmed robot was salvaged from decommissioned tooling used in the Ford Silverton Assembly Plant, and can cook 120 pieces of meat in just 12 minutes
- Discarded pallet for the base and metal trolleys were converted into braai grills
There’s a new braai (or barbeque) master at Ford South Africa’s Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria, but just don’t expect a reply when you tell him how well you want your meat done! That’s because TCF BBQ – as it’s affectionately known – is a robot!
What TCF BBQ (Braai Boerewors Quickly) lacks in communication, it more than makes up for in speed! Able to braai 120 pieces of meat in 12 minutes without breaking a sweat, TCF calmly flips and moves grills around with speed and precision - and is guaranteed to be the centre of attention.
The TCF BBQ robot was the result of an internal competition held by Ford South Africa where various departments were encouraged to design something unique using whatever scrap materials and decommissioned tooling they could find and was available at the plant, following the extensive upgrades to the assembly line that took place in 2021.
Inspired by Heritage Day, and local assembly of the Ford Ranger bakkie (or pick-up) for domestic sales and over 100 export markets, Claude Roux, Area Manager from the Trim and Chassis and Final (TCF) Line, came up with the ambitious idea of transforming one of the robots into a braai bot. Roux had only one non-negotiable: safety compliance.
“This was when the innovation and curiosity of that ‘small child’ inside all of us came to life,” explains Roux. “We took our knowledge of braaing and our understanding of manufacturing vehicles and married the two to create a machine with the ability to pick up and manipulate the meat on a grill.
“We decided to use a Fanuc robot that was due to be disposed of during the extensive Silverton Assembly Plant upgrades, along with scrap metal, discarded wood pallets for a base, metal trolleys for braais and a Siemens Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) for the controls. We had a qualified electrician, qualified fitter, PLC programmer, and a controls specialist working on it for around four weeks during the plant shutdown,” explains Roux.
Mimicking the complex yet smooth moves of a braai master was the next challenge, and TCF BBQ hasn’t dropped a piece of food yet!
In its capable robotic hands, TCF BBQ is programmed to place the grill on one of three braai stations surrounding the unit, then turn the grill after a set time. It can offload the grill from the braai onto the braai station, which was manufactured using a scrapped Ford Ranger Wildtrak bumper and grille – it can even flash the headlights, indicate, beep the horn and flash the park lights! TCF BBQ’s other abilities include being able to pour water or cooldrink and serve a full tray to people. And as a final touch befitting of a proudly South African robot, it can wave the national flag.
“TCF BBQ has become a celebrity here at Ford South Africa, and is a perfect example of the creativity and ingenuity that defines everyone at Ford and echoes our proudly South African heritage,” says Ockert Berry, VP Operations at Ford South Africa.
“This competition brought out a strong yet friendly rivalry that saw various teams working together in secrecy until the reveal date. Now TCF BBQ has hung up his apron and has been dismantled, but a next-generation version can’t be ruled out. Maybe we will see a new version to coincide with the launch of the next-generation Ranger,” concludes Berry.
To watch TCF BBQ in action, click on the video link: https://youtu.be/DgwuTuOiPUs