Major manufacturers are turning their attention from consumer goods to medical supplies in the fight against COVID-19. Last week, Ford Motor Company joined forces with 3M and GE Healthcare to ramp up production of much-needed respirators, ventilators, and face shields.
“This is such a critical time for America and the world. It is a time for action and cooperation,” Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. “By coming together across multiple industries, we can make a real difference for people in need and for those on the front lines of this crisis.”
Beyond boosting the manufacturing capacity of 3M’s powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs), the automaker and multinational conglomerate are also leveraging parts—fans from the Ford F-150’s cooled seats, 3M HEPA air filters, portable tool battery packs—to develop a new respirator design.
“We’re exploring all available opportunities to further expand 3M’s capacity and get healthcare supplies as quickly as possible to where they’re needed most,” Mike Roman, 3M CEO and chairman of the board, said. “It’s crucial that we mobilize all resources to protect lives and defeat this disease.”
The firm’s global output of N95 respirators has doubled to more than 1.1 billion a year; 3M is now producing 35 million respirators per month—90 percent of which are designated for healthcare workers. The remaining 10 percent are deployed to other critical industries, including energy, food, and pharmaceutical companies.
Ford and GE Healthcare, meanwhile, are working to expand production of a simplified version of GE’s ventilator, designed to support coronavirus patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing.
“We have empowered our teams of engineers and designers to be scrappy and creative to quickly help scale up production of this vital equipment,” according to Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and CEO. The companies have been in “regular dialogue” with federal, state, and local officials to pinpoint areas of greatest need.
Ford’s U.S. design team is also creating and testing transparent shields that block the face and eyes from accidental contact with liquids (i.e. someone sneezing in a first-responder’s face). The first 1,000 masks were tested last week in Michigan, where more than 100,000 shields are expected to be produced weekly.