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An Awakened Ford Motor Shifts Focus to Production of Respirators and Medical Shields

March 31, 2020 (EIRNS)— The U.S. automotive sector, once the hub of what President Roosevelt called the Arsenal for Democracy, is now shedding its lethargy, scraping off the rust, stretching its limbs, and initially doing what is in part in its DNA—when it functions: to design, innovate and mass produce.

As the EIR Daily Alert reported in its March 26 issue, General Motors and ventilator producer Ventec Life Systems are gearing up to produce some 200,000 ventilators, beginning in April at GM’s Kokomo, Indiana plant; that total of ventilators would approximately equal the America’s existing inventory.

Ford Motor Company is partnering with 3M and GE Healthcare, whose products include medical equipment, to scale up production, by as much as tenfold, of power air-purifying respirators and ventilators, respectively. “One of the things with the auto industry is that it is good at making things at volume with high levels of precision,” said David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Such precision is needed for medical equipment. A group of Ford employees decided they knew of ways to incorporate Ford processes to make medical equipment. According to the March 24 Detroit News, they “floated their idea and kicked off discussions with health care officials, equipment manufacturers, and the White House’s medical consultants.”

One idea they came up with was to develop a filtration system for a respirator that uses a Ford fan that Ford deploys to cool seats in its F-150 pick-up trucks. Respirators filter the air for health caregivers and last longer than the N95 face masks. Ford and 3M in this production project are designing respirators, with this Ford fan, to last up to eight hours. Mike Kesti, global technical director of personal safety division of 3M, asserted, “We’re trying to be resourceful, agile and creative on how to make this work and build capacity.” A production schedule is being worked out.

The Ford workers have dubbed their operation “Project Apollo 13,” named for the damaged lunar spaceflight 50 years ago, when the astronauts and Mission Control had to bootstrap the systems of the command module and the lunar module after there was an oxygen tank explosion and they had to figure out how to get the astronauts home safely.

In parallel, Ford is already testing face shields that would protect medical professionals, factory workers, and store clerks at the Detroit Mercy Hospital and other Detroit hospitals. Ford plans to produce more than 1 million of these shields per week at its subsidiary, Troy Design and Manufacturing in Plymouth, Michigan.

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