Ford has expanded its plan to produce critical medical equipment and supplies, including a new effort to make reusable gowns from airbag materials as well as a partnership with scientific instrument provider Thermo Fisher Scientific to ramp up production of COVID-19 collection kits to test for the virus.
This broader plan highlights the latest effort by automakers and medical device manufacturers to help ease a shortage of equipment and supplies such as face shields, face masks, protective gowns and ventilators, a medical device that is used in the treatment of COVID-19, a disease caused by the coronavirus.
Ford announced in March a partnership with 3M to build Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs), as well as a separate effort to produce more than 3 million face shields at its factory in Plymouth, Mich.
On Monday, Ford provided an update on its 3M partnership and laid out new plans to produce other medical equipment. Ford will start Tuesday producing PAPRs — respirators used by healthcare workers that filter out contaminants in the air — at its Vreeland facility near Flat Rock, Mich. Paid United Auto Worker volunteers will be working to assemble the PAPR devices. Ford said it expects to be able to make 100,000 PAPR devices.
“I think our immediate focus is on the surge need that is really at the end of April, May and June, so we’re focusing on that time frame,” Jim Baumbick, vice president of Ford Enterprise Product Line Management said during a call with reporters Monday. “What I can also say is we have very clear signals working with our partners that the demand is far outpacing the supply of this critical equipment. We know that there’s incredible demand and need for this during this short time horizon.”
Ford engineers have also been working to increase the output of PAPRs and N95 respirators at 3M’s U.S.-based manufacturing facilities. 3M has doubled its N95 production to more than 1.1 billion annually and has plans to double that again in the next 12 months, according to Mike Kesti, the global technical director of the personal safety division at 3M.
In addition to its previously announced plans to make face shields, Ford outlined three additional efforts, including face mask and gown production, as well as the partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific.
The company has started to produce face masks for its own workers to use throughout its global operations. The face masks, which are being made at Ford’s Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., were developed in collaboration with the UAW and are being made for internal use to lessen the burden on an already squeezed supply chain. Ford said it is looking to have the masks certified for medical use.
Ford has also tapped supplier Joyson Safety Systems to make reusable gowns from airbag material. The automaker worked with a local hospital in Michigan to develop a pattern for the gowns. The airbag material used for the gown is nylon-based and has built-in coating.
“This is really a great find that we could take something that we already knew how to produce and then turn that into isolation gowns, and they are washable,” said Marcy Fisher, Ford director of global body exterior and interior engineering.
Ford-supplier Joyson Safety Systems will cut and sew 1.3 million gowns by July 4. The gowns are self-tested to federal standards and are washable up to 50 times, according to Ford.
Finally, the company said it will help Thermo Fisher Scientific expand production of COVID-19 collection kits. Ford engineers at its Kansas City Assembly Plant are helping set up additional collection kit production machinery. These engineers are also helping Thermo Fisher adapt machinery that currently runs glass vials for other products to run plastic vials required in drive-through coronavirus test collection.