Ford Announces Respirator Plan; Alabama 3M Plants Partners

Ford Motor Co. announced last week it would combine forces with 3M and GE Healthcare to make healthcare equipment for first responders and patients in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ford also plans to assemble more than 100,000 face shields per week and leverage its in-house 3D printing capability to produce components for use in personal protective equipment.

“This is such a critical time for America and the world. It is a time for action and cooperation. By coming together across multiple industries, we can make a real difference for people in need and for those on the front lines of this crisis,” said Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman.

The 117-year-old company will combine engineering and production expertise with 3M on powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) designs to meet surge demand from hospitals and first responders. PAPRs are the battery powered, spacesuit-looking devices that keep first responders and medical providers safe while they do their job. The aim is to produce the machines in a Ford facility.

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Ford and 3M teams are looking at off-the-shelf solutions, such as fans from the Ford-150’s cooled seats, for airflow, 3M HEPA air filters and portable tool battery packs.

Ford and GE Healthcare also want to expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s existing ventilator design to support patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing caused by COVID-19. These ventilators could be produced at a Ford manufacturing site, in addition to a GE location.

“We are encouraged by how quickly companies from across industries have mobilized to address the growing challenge we collectively face from COVID-19,” said GE Healthcare President and CEO Kieran Murphy. “We are proud to bring our clinical and technical expertise to this collaboration with Ford, working together to serve unprecedented demand for this life-saving technology and urgently support customers as they meet patient needs.”

Ford’s U.S. design teams are also testing full-face shields for medical workers and first responders, which could be assembled by the thousands by autoworkers. Production targets for the face shields have been set at 100,000 per week.

The face shields fully block the face and eyes from accidental contact with liquids, and when paired with N95 respirators, can be a more effective way to limit potential exposure to coronavirus than N95 respirators alone.

3M has plants in Decatur and Guin, Alabama.

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