Ford details 'scrappy and creative' plans to boost medical equipment production with 3M, GE

Ford plans to assemble more than 100,000 plastic face shields per week at its Michigan manufacturing site—and will also repurpose off-the-shelf parts from its automobiles. (Business Wire)

Ford Motor Company has outlined plans to re-task some of its manufacturing lines toward the production of much-needed medical equipment including protective face masks, personal air-filtering equipment and ventilator systems for intensive care units. 

The automaker said it will work with 3M to scale up the assembly of its powered air-purifying respirators, waist-mounted packs that send clean air into a sealed hood and mask for healthcare workers who need protection for extended periods of time.  

Meanwhile, Ford will also collaborate with GE Healthcare to fabricate simplified versions of the company’s ventilators. GE said the new system will be built specifically to help meet the urgent demand spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and equipped with the essential functions. 

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Ford also plans to provide more than 100,000 plastic face shields per week at one of its manufacturing sites, in cooperation with the United Auto Workers, to help protect medical professionals as well as factory workers and other staff.

RELATED: Trump, FDA turn to automakers to boost ventilator production

To expedite the production of 3M’s respirators, Ford is looking to repurpose off-the-shelf parts from its automobiles—such as the small fans used to cool the seats of its F-150 pickup truck—to increase manufacturing rates by potentially tenfold. 

Combined with the company’s 3D printing capacity and 3M’s HEPA air filters, the two hope to provide portable packs for first responders and healthcare workers that can filter out airborne contaminants for up to eight hours.

“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,” Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett said in a statement

“We’ve been in regular dialogue with federal, state and local officials to understand the areas of greatest needs,” Hackett said. “We are focusing our efforts to help increase the supply of respirators, face shields and ventilators that can help assist health care workers, first responders, critical workers as well as those who have been infected by the virus.”

The rollout of a simplified GE ventilator comes after the FDA temporarily waived its enforcement and inspection requirements to allow companies outside the healthcare industry to begin fabricating parts. 

The agency also told manufacturers it would not object to them quickly implementing modifications to previously reviewed and cleared designs. Ford is evaluating separate efforts to produce ventilators for the U.K. government, as well.

The automaker also plans to deliver its first 1,000 transparent face shields this week to area hospitals in the Detroit Mercy, Henry Ford and Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace health systems.

Ford aims to produce more than 100,000 shields per week and says it expects them to boost protection against the coronavirus compared to the use of N95 respirators alone. 3M has doubled its global output of N95 respirators to more than 1.1 billion per year, or nearly 100 million per month, with 35 million per month being produced in the U.S.

Ford also said that it is working to reacquire 165,000 N95 respirators sent to China earlier this year to help combat the coronavirus.

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