As the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States, a number of automakers and other manufacturers announced plans to retrofit factories to help ease the shortage of personal protective gear and ventilators.
Now, two U.S. automakers have fulfilled their separate multi-million-dollar ventilator contracts — together delivering 80,000 of the devices to the U.S. government.
General Motors said Tuesday that it has completed its contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for 30,000 critical care ventilators delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile. GM said many of its ventilators have been deployed to hospitals. Ford has also completed its 50,000-ventilator contract, Bloomberg reported.
GM and Ford didn’t go it alone. Both automakers partnered with companies to accelerate the ramp-up from 0 to thousands of ventilators within five months. GM partnered with Ventec Life Systems to produce ventilators at its engine plant in Kokomo, Indiana, using about 1,000 workers. The GM-Ventec partnership grew out of StopTheSpread.org, a coordinated effort of private companies to respond to COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Ford teamed up with GE Healthcare to produce ventilators at the automaker’s Rawsonville Road plant in Michigan. Ford’s $336 million contract wrapped up August 28 when it shipped its final Model A-E ventilator unit. Ford’s contract was supposed to be fulfilled by mid-July, but said it was delayed by new suppliers that were ramping up parts production, according to Bloomberg. The company was granted an extension by HHS.
In the early days of the contracts, GM and Ford were criticized, and even attacked, by President Trump, although ultimately he applauded the efforts.
Both efforts stretched and showcased the capabilities of the automakers to convert portions of factories used to assemble vehicles and parts into facilities cranking out medical devices. Before GM even announced its partnership with Ventec, the automaker investigated the feasibility of sourcing more than 700 components needed to build Ventec’s critical care ventilators, called VOCSN. Ventec describes these VOCSN devices as multi-function ventilators that were cleared in 2017 by the FDA.
GM initially estimated it would cost about $750 million, a price that included retrofitting a portion of the engine plant, purchasing materials to make the ventilators and paying the 1,000 workers needed to scale up production, the source said. However, the Trump administration balked at the price tag, putting a contract with the U.S. government in limbo. Eventually, GM reached a $490 million contract with the federal government to produce 30,000 ventilators by the end of August. Under the contract, GM produced a different critical care ventilator from Ventec called the VOCSN V+Pro, a simpler device that has 400 parts. The other more expensive and complex machine had a multi-function capability.
Ford and GM also produced other medical supplies. Ford, which called its effort Project Apollo, said it produced more than 75 million pieces of personal protective equipment, including 19 million face shields, 42 million face masks,1.6 million washable isolation gowns and more than 32,000 powered air-purifying respirators in collaboration with 3M.
GM said its Warren facility has two production lines for face masks and a third line making N95 face respirators. To date, the facility has produced more than 10 million masks, with production going to employees at GM facilities or donated to community organizations, the company said.