Ford switches gears to make medical equipment during shortage

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Ford, 3M, GE to manufacture medical equipment
Ford Motor Company said their partnership with other automakers would produce thousands of face shields, ventilators, and respirators.

Ford Motor Company says it's teamed up with 3M and General Electric to produce medical equipment for healthcare workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

With the shortage of supplies, the companies will redesign air respirators, ventilators, and 3-D face shields, according to a statement from the automaker. As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to increase exponentially around the globe, U.S. hospitals and health officials have warned government leaders of a wide range of equipment shortages.

Ventilators deliver air to one's lungs through a tube inserted into the trachea, or windpipe, and are critical to helping patients who have developed pneumonia from COVID-19. Ford and GE Healthcare plan to make ventilators at a Ford manufacturing site, as well as a GE location, according to a statement released Monday.

RELATED: Coronavirus in US: Medical experts fear ventilator shortage for COVID-19 patients

Ford officials said they plan to make more than 100,000 face shields per week and rely on in-house 3-D printing capabilities to make components for personal protective equipment.The face shields fully block the face and eyes from accidental contact with liquids and, when paired with N95 respirators, they can be a more effective way to limit potential exposure to coronavirus than N95 respirators alone, according to equipment makers.

The first 1,000 face shields will be tested this week at three Detroit, Michigan, hospitals.

Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of insight, said automakers have the resources, know-how and space available to build large quantities of these machines.

"They work in plastic and electronics and have material sourcing expertise," she told ABC News. "It's very reminiscent of World War II. Everyone had to pitch together and do different things they weren't accustomed to."

In 1941, the U.S. automotive industry ceased production of civilian vehicles in Detroit and started building Jeeps, M-5 tanks and B-24 bombers to assist in the WWII war effort after President Franklin D. Roosevelt made a "call to arm and support" the Allied powers in a December 1940 speech.

By the summer of 1944, Ford's Willow Run plant cranked out one bomber an hour, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

RELATED: UTMB doctors create makeshift ventilator to help during shortage

Other automakers have pledged resources. Elon Musk, CEO of electric carmaker Tesla and private aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, said he would direct his companies to produce ventilators if needed.

"We will make ventilators if there is a shortage," he tweeted Thursday. "Tesla makes cars with sophisticated hvac systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?"

A spokeswoman for Jaguar Land Rover told ABC News the British luxury carmaker has been "approached for help with the production of ventilators as part of ongoing discussions with government. Naturally, we will do whatever we can to support our communities during these unprecedented times."

Automakers across the globe have temporarily suspended production for the safety of workers as the coronavirus has sickened more than 229,000 people worldwide. GM, Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, BMW and Honda have all announced closures at some or all of their facilities.