Mar 24, 2020 - Health

Ford to help GE, 3M make more coronavirus supplies

Ford worker assembles a transparent face shield
Ford worker assembles transparent face shield. Photo: Ford Motor

Ford Motor is bootstrapping ideas with GE Healthcare and 3M to help them dramatically increase their production of much-need medical supplies to fight the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Ford and other automakers specialize in cranking out cars in high volume, using global supply chains. That mass production expertise is critical as medical technology companies try to meet surging demand during the crisis.

  • "I feel like this is the fabric of who we are. All three companies. We see the need, we just want to jump in and find a way to help," said Jim Baumbick, Ford vice president for Enterprise Product Line Management.

Details: Ford is working on multiple fronts to help the companies increase production of their own products, and innovating some of its own solutions.

  • Ford is working with 3M to increase the manufacturing capacity of its powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR), a waist-mounted breathing machine with a helmet that healthcare workers use.
  • Teams are also working jointly to develop a new PAPR design using parts like fans borrowed from the Ford F-150's cooled seats, 3M HEPA air filters and portable tool battery packs to power these respirators for up to eight hours.
  • This new respirator could be produced in a Ford facility by UAW workers, the automaker said.
  • The goal is to help 3M boost production tenfold.

Ford is also working with GE Healthcare to expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare's existing ventilator for sick patients.

  • These ventilators could potentially be produced at a Ford manufacturing site in addition to a GE location. 

Separately, Ford is designing and testing transparent full-face shields for medical workers and first responders.

  • The first 1,000 face shields will be tested this week at Detroit-area hospitals.
  • Ford expects to manufacture about 75,000 of these shields by the end of this week and then produce more than 100,000 face shields per week.
  • It is also trying to 3D-print disposable respirators for healthcare workers and first responders but will need regulatory approval.
  • 3D printing does not allow for large-scale production, however. Ford said it would make about 1,000 per month but will aim to increase production as fast as possible.

What they're saying: "Ford has really unleashed the power of their engineering at our plants," said Mike Kesti, global technical director, 3M Personal Safety Division.

The bottom line: "Time really here is the enemy," Baumbick said.

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