Ford is the latest automaker to announce that it will begin manufacturing urgently needed ventilators that are crucial in treating the worst symptoms of COVID-19. The automaker announced Monday that it will manufacture ventilators for General Electric’s health care division, which has licensed a “simplified” design that does not require electricity from a Florida ventilators company called Airon, and one that is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Ford has already been working with GE to increase production of its ventilators, and will soon begin helping Airon increase the company’s production capacity in Florida. The automaker is already helping to make masks and protective hoods for healthcare workers.
Ford will pay 500 volunteer employees represented by the United Auto Workers to build the ventilators at one of the automaker’s component factories in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which is currently closed due to the new coronavirus pandemic. The company will build the ventilators “all day” starting the week of April 20. Ford says it expects to be able to build 1,500 of them by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May and 50,000 by July, eventually reaching a rate of 30,000 per month.
Adrian Price, director of Ford’s global manufacturing central engineering division, said Ford and GE Healthcare believe the non-powered ventilator design is “absolutely robust in terms of its capacity.” Perhaps most importantly, Price said it is a simple design that can be expanded quickly.
When it comes to protecting the workers who will build the ventilators, Ford says it’s working with the UAW to make sure they’re well-selected and spaced far enough apart that they don’t risk spreading the new coronavirus. The company will also use barriers, shields and protective devices. Price said the automaker “is also looking to roll out some new technology that can help us fight COVID,” but did not elaborate. Ford has already lost two employees to COVID-19 in the US. And the Detroit automaker Fiat Chrysler has lost four.
Ford teams up with Detroit automaker General Motors to help make ventilators, which are expected to be few in number, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the US, and all over the world. GM announced Friday that it will begin manufacturing more complicated ventilators in April on behalf of Ventec Life Systems, hours before President Trump announced that he was invoking the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to compel the manufacturer of automobiles to help with shortages. GM eventually plans to manufacture 10,000 electric ventilators per month, but it will start with “hundreds” in April, according to Ventec.
Tesla is also examining how to help make ventilators for a company called Medtronic, and has even bought some from China to send to hospitals in the meantime. Earlier Monday, Richard Branson’s space company rocket launch arm announced that it has also developed a device that could help patients who are having trouble breathing due to COVID-19.
In response to the need for ventilators, as well as the economic impact of the pandemic, several workers in GE’s aviation division decided to protest the cuts the company made on Monday. Union workers asked the company to allow them to make ventilators. GE Healthcare is already a major manufacturer of ventilators.
When asked why GE Healthcare is turning to Ford to manufacture these ventilators instead of its own workers, Tom Westrick, the division’s vice president and quality manager, said: “Our decision to select Ford was specifically based on speed and our ability to increase capacity as fast as we could. “
Correction: An earlier version of this story claimed that GE aviation workers stopped working. The protest occurred off-site while they were out of service. We regret the error.