Ford Is Already Working With 3M and GE to Build Medical Equipment

Ventilators, respirators and personal protective equipment are on the way

3D printing respirator masks at Ford Motor Company's factory
Ford technician Dave Jacek overseeing production of 3D-printed respirator mask prototypes.

It’s only been five days since Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ordered their factories in the U.S., Canada and Mexico to close due to the coronavirus pandemic. But that doesn’t mean everyone’s gone home to weather the storm. GM is building ventilators with Ventec, FCA is set to produce a million face masks a month and Ford is going even bigger to combat COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Ford announced a sweeping initiative to produce necessary medical supplies in partnership with 3M, GE Healthcare and the United Auto Workers union.

“We’ve been in regular dialogue with federal, state and local officials to understand the areas of greatest needs,” said Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and CEO, in a press release. “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.”

As Hackett said, there are three components of the initiative: 

  • Ventilators: One of the most essential, and scarce, pieces of medical equipment — which helps support the lungs of infected patients — Ford is helping GE Healthcare produce a simplified version of their model.
  • Respirators: Ford is working on with 3M to both increase production of the company’s powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) model and design a new model that incorporates off-the-shelf parts, like fans from the Ford F-150’s cooled seats. 
  • Personal Protective Equipment: The automaker has already started producing transparent full-face shields for medical professionals, which will be tested this week in Detroit-area hospitals. They’re also using 3D printing and other manufacturing capabilities to fabricate additional equipment.

“We’re exploring all available opportunities to further expand 3M’s capacity and get healthcare supplies as quickly as possible to where they’re needed most,” said Mike Roman, 3M chairman of the board and chief executive officer, in the press release. 

That includes co-opting facilities that used to make pickup trucks.

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