Ford Motor Company
Ford Covid 19 Medical Equipment Production 03 Cropped

Ford to Partner with 3M, GE Healthcare to Produce Health Equipment for Outbreak

March 24, 2020
Fellow U.S. automakers General Motors and Tesla have also sworn to contribute to equipment sourcing.

Ford Motor Co. announced March 24 that they would work directly with 3M and GE Healthcare to help ramp up production of preventative and medical care equipment. When automakers first suggested they assist medical-equipment companies meet demand for their products, it was unclear as to how exactly the car manufacturers would adapt to produce such a different product from automobiles.

Ford’s response so far appears to involve collaboration and diversification: Ford is exploring at least three different medical products to step into: powered respirators, ventilators, and transparent face shields.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based truckmaker is working with 3M on a design for Powered Air-Purifying Respirators, or PAPRs. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, PAPRs—which resemble helmets, with a full face shield and a filter supplying air from behind—are suitable for use by medical professionals when N95 face masks are unavailable. N95 masks, which are disposable, are currently in short supply.

According to Ford, the company is allocating employees to speed production on 3M’s existing product lines, designing a hybrid PAPR that uses parts made by Ford, and looking at producing the hybrid PAPR design in one of its Michigan plants using UAW employees.

At the same time, Ford is working with GE Healthcare to produce a simplified version of GE’s existing ventilator so that Ford can more easily make parts for it. Ventilators, which supply oxygen to patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing, are in short supply almost everywhere, owing to the dramatic rise in patients with severe respiratory difficulty caused by COVID-19.

“We are proud to bring our clinical and technical expertise to this collaboration with Ford,” said GE Healthcare CEO Kieran Murphy in a statement.

Independently, Ford is experimenting with designs for simple transparent face shields. The simple plastic shields, which Ford notes can be paired with N95 face masks when worn by medical professionals, block accidental contact with fluids from infected patients. According to Ford, the first thousand shields will be tested this week, and Ford says that once production ramps up they’ll be able to produce more than 100,000 face shields per week from a Ford subsidiary facility in Plymouth, Michigan.

General Motors and Tesla have also promised to direct their own manufacturing resources towards producing medical equipment, including parts for ventilators. On March 24, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, reported that he had supplied officials in Los Angeles with more than 1,000 ventilators, despite earlier expressing his skepticism of a ventilator shortage in the United States.

In a separate statement, Ford North America President Kumar Galhotra said that Ford had scrapped plans to restart production in the United States, Canada and Mexico on March 30. “We are assessing various options and working with union leaders—including the United Auto Workers and Unifor—on the optimal timing for resuming vehicle production,” said Galhotra.

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