This article appeared in Machine Design and has been published here with permission.
Ford Motor Company took a prudent step to boost containment efforts for the coronavirus by temporarily suspending production at its manufacturing sites in North America.
The automotive company reported that Ford is not planning to restart its plants in the U.S., Canada and Mexico on Mon., March 30 as originally hoped. “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, keeping the well-being of our workforce top of mind,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford’s president of North America.
But halting production has not pre-empted efforts to provide ongoing support in the fight against COVID-19. The move to close plants followed news that the company had formed a Coronavirus Task Force along with UAW, General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler leaders to implement enhanced protections for manufacturing and warehouse employees at all three companies, as well as to manufacture most needed products.
Ford is taking on relief initiatives by teaming up with 3M and GE Healthcare to mobilize resources and share manufacturing and engineering expertise, producing urgently needed medical equipment and supplies such as respirators, face shields and ventilators.
Here’s what’s currently in production at Ford:
Powered Air-Purifying Respirators
Ford and 3M are scaling up production of powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) designs, with a view to producing the respirators at Ford’s Michigan manufacturing facilities.
The companies are collaborating on new designs using off-the-shelf parts from both firms in an effort to meet the surge in demand for frontline healthcare workers and first responders. Design plans include using Ford F-150’s cooled seats for airflow, 3M HEPA air filters and portable tool battery packs in the respirator assembly.
“Working with 3M and GE, we have empowered our teams of engineers and designers to be scrappy and creative to quickly help scale up production of this vital equipment,” said Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and CEO.
Ford and GE Healthcare will expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s existing ventilator design for patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing caused by COVID-19. Leveraging GE’s clinical and technical expertise, these ventilators could be produced at a Ford manufacturing site in addition to a GE location, Ford stated in a briefing. Work on this initiative was spurred by a request for help from U.S. government officials.
Respirators and Face Shields
Separately, Ford’s U.S. design team sprang into action to create and test transparent full-face shields for medical workers and first responders. The respirators are being produced at Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Mich., which can harness in-house 3D printing capabilities to manufacture components and subassemblies for use in personal protective equipment.
The face shields fully 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.
Ford noted that 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. Roughly 75,000 of these shields are expected to be finished this week, and more than 100,000 face shields per week will be produced at Ford subsidiary Troy Design and Manufacturing’s facilities in Plymouth, Mich.
Meanwhile, Ford is also evaluating a separate opportunity with the U.K. government to produce additional ventilators.
Ford reports that the company is also reacquiring 165,000 N95 respirators from China that were originally sent earlier this year to help combat coronavirus.
In addition, Ford has kicked off a working team to help hospitals locate and secure urgently needed surgical and N95 respirators. The automaker reported it is committed to sending Henry Ford Health Systems 40,000 surgical masks while it locates additional supplies.