How Car Companies Are Producing Medical Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Due to Coronavirus

Jack R. Nerad | March 24, 2020

Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors have teamed with medical and personal protective equipment manufacturers to ramp up production and supply of critically needed items related to the coronavirus pandemic. Ford and General Motors have initiated cooperative ventures with a number of medical device makers to produce ventilators, respirators, and face shields.

Ford GM Tesla help produce medical personal protective equipment

Ventilators are used to combat the effects of respiratory failure with potentially life-saving therapy to increase oxygen flow in patients suffering from COVID-19. Respirators and face shields are used to protect healthcare workers and others from the airborne transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. All three products are in short supply due to the rapid onset and scale of the epidemic.

GM and Ventec Life Systems

General Motors has teamed with Ventec Life Systems in an initiative fostered by StopTheSpread.org, an organization that is uniting the business community and the public sector in an effort to draw a quick halt to the proliferation of COVID-19. GM will use its purchasing power, logistical expertise and production facilities to begin assembling ventilators designed by Ventec Life Systems.

"With GM's help, Ventec will increase ventilator production," Chris Kiple, Ventec Life Systems CEO, said in a statement announcing the effort. "By tapping their expertise, GM is enabling us to get more ventilators to more hospitals much faster. This partnership will help save lives."

General Motors is investigating the feasibility of producing the ventilators at the GM Components plant in Kokomo, Indiana. The plant, which typically assembles small electrical components for GM vehicles, is currently shuttered because of GM factory closures in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. The joint production agreement could result in an additional 200,000 ventilators that are critically needed.

Ford, GE Healthcare and 3M

In a series of just-announced initiatives, Ford Motor Company is working with 3M and GE Healthcare to manufacture respirators, ventilators, and face shields. The companies believe Ford design, engineering, and manufacturing expertise at scale can lead to increased supplies of these critically needed items.

The partnership with 3M is for the manufacture of powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs). The respirators are used by first-responders and healthcare workers to help them avoid the coronavirus as they administer aid to its victims.

To enable faster assembly of respirators, Ford and 3M are collaborating on a new design that leverages parts from both companies. The effort includes locating off-the-shelf parts like fans from the Ford F-150's cooled seats for airflow, 3M HEPA air filters to filter airborne contaminants such as droplets that carry virus particles, and portable tool battery packs to power the respirators for up to eight hours. Production might take place at a Ford manufacturing plant in addition to 3M's production facilities.

Ford and GE Healthcare have teamed to expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare's existing ventilator design. Intended to support patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing, the new-design ventilators could be produced at a Ford manufacturing site in addition to a GE location.

"We are encouraged by how quickly companies from across industries have mobilized to address the growing challenge we collectively face from COVID-19," said GE Healthcare President & CEO Kieran Murphy.

A Ford design team has taken on the task of creating and testing transparent full-face shields for medical workers and first responders. The face shields block the face and eyes from accidental contact with liquids and when paired with N95 respirators can be a more effective way to limit potential exposure to coronavirus than N95 respirators alone.

The first 1,000 face shields will be tested this week at Detroit Mercy, Henry Ford Health Systems, and Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace hospitals. Some 75,000 of these shields should be ready this week, and more than 100,000 face shields per week will be produced at Troy Design and Manufacturing, a Ford subsidiary in Plymouth, Mich. Ford is also leveraging its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Mich., and in-house 3D printing capabilities to manufacture components and subassemblies for use in personal protective equipment.

Tesla Buying Ventilators

As Ford and GM plants scale up for the likely production of critically needed medical equipment, Tesla Motors' ever-resourceful CEO Elon Musk told his Twitter followers that his company had discovered an over-supply of ventilators in China as the coronavirus epidemic there reaches a new phase. Tesla Motors has purchased those ventilators and is having them shipped to the United States.

According to California Governor Gavin Newsom, at least 1,000 of the ventilators procured by Tesla will go to hospitals in the Golden State. In all, Musk said he had purchased 1,255 FDA-approved ResMed, Philips, and Medtronic ventilators. Tesla Motors is currently investigating ways it might build additional ventilators.

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