During World War II, American industrial giants retooled their operations to make the United States the “Arsenal of Democracy.” Today, in response to President Trump’s metaphorical call to arms against COVID-19, America is once again flexing its industrial muscles to answer that call and produce life-saving equipment to battle the virus.
Ford is working with 3M Company to accelerate production of respirators, using off-the-shelf parts where possible, including fans from the Ford F-150 pickup’s cooled seats and 3M air filters. Ford is also using United Auto Workers members to assemble more than 100,000 plastic face shields a week. The company is also planning to help General Electric’s health-care unit produce ventilators that hospitals desperately need for coronavirus patients. Ford’s project, called Project Apollo after the Apollo 13 spacecraft rescue mission, will help GE and 3M scale their existing efforts to provide critical products to hospitals to save lives during the coronavirus outbreak.
Ford is coordinating with General Motors to avoid duplicating efforts as each company reaches out to their suppliers to produce medical devices. GM is exploring the feasibility of building ventilators for Ventec Life Systems Inc. at one of its auto-parts plants in Indiana. Another automaker, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, is planning to produce 1 million masks a month at one of its plants in China to donate to first responders and health-care providers in the United States and is supporting Italian ventilator manufacturer Siare Engineering International Group increase its output.
Automobile companies have closed their auto assembly lines to keep their employees from catching and spreading the coronavirus. Now they are using their facilities to manufacture medical equipment that is in short supply. That medical equipment is manufactured from plastic components made from natural gas and oil feedstocks and the transportation sector uses gasoline and diesel to transport the supplies to the factories for assemblage. Without the oil and natural gas products to make the plastic components and to transport the supplies to factories and hospitals, these manufacturers would not be able to help with the coronavirus outbreak. America’s status as the number one oil and gas producer in the world is a distinct positive benefit to our nation’s strength and the health of all Americans, just as our energy resources fueled the furnaces that provided for the troops during World War II.
Ford’s Partnership with GE
Ford will help produce a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s existing ventilator, which is used to help patients suffering respiratory failure or having difficulty breathing that are symptoms of the coronavirus. The first ventilator is expected to be completed by early June. GE has already doubled its output of ventilators in the months since the coronavirus outbreak began, and it expects to double production again by the end of the second quarter, independent of the Ford partnership. Ford is not new to manufacturing medical equipment. The company had manufactured medical equipment in the past, including portable incubators to prevent infant deaths in rural areas in the early 1940s and ventilators then known as iron lungs during the 1948 polio epidemic.
GM Partnership with Ventec Life Systems
Even before the President invoked the Defense Production Act to compel GM to produce ventilators, they were on the march. GM is partnering with Washington-based Ventec Life Systems, a small ventilator manufacturer, and StopTheSpread.org—an organization that brings together businesses to prevent the virus from spreading. Ventec Life Systems and General Motors have been working to implement plans to build more critical care ventilators. With GM’s support, Ventec is planning exponentially higher ventilator production. GM’s Kokomo Operations in Indiana makes electronic components and assemblies. The 2.6 million-square-foot facility employs 274 hourly and 118 salaried employees, which can help in the production of medical equipment. GM has also tapped its suppliers to support the effort, which includes Minneapolis-based Twin City Die Castings Company that makes housing for electronics in control and four-wheel drive systems and airbags. Twin City believes that it can help Ventec increase its ventilator production from 150 ventilators per month to up to 200,000 ventilators per year.
Americans are blessed to have industrial giants and ample energy of all kinds during the current coronavirus crisis. Due to the shortages of ventilators, respirators, and other essential equipment, automakers are using their facilities to help produce medical equipment. The automakers are leveraging their engineering, logistics, and manufacturing expertise to help boost the production of ventilators, respirators, and other needed equipment to save lives and combat the coronavirus. One can lose sight of the necessary relationships to make such efforts work. It takes coordination not just from the automakers and their suppliers but from the folks delivering the supplies. Behind all these end products is the energy sector that is helping to produce the plastic components of the medical devices and the fuel needed to transport them to the manufacturing facilities and the final product to hospitals and medical centers. America’s manufacturing and energy industries are answering the call to arms from President Trump on behalf of our nation.