A Ventec employee works on final assembly of VOCSN ventilators at Ventec Life Systems, in Bothell, Washington. / Reuters
DETROIT — General Motors and medical equipment maker Ventec are speeding up efforts under a partnership code-named “Project V” to build ventilators at a GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana, to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.
GM said on Monday that work at its Indiana plant, which makes small electronic components for cars, is part of the effort to expand ventilator production. Sources said the GM-Ventec project is known internally as “Project V.”
As part of the effort to boost ventilator output from Ventec, of Bothell, Washington, GM has arranged for the supply of 95% of the parts needed to build the ventilator and is seeking to source the remaining 37 necessary parts, according to an email to suppliers from Shilpan Amin, GM’s vice president of global purchasing.
The goal of the venture is to build up to 200,000 ventilators, said people familiar with the plans who asked not to be identified.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that U.S. automakers GM, Ford, and Tesla had been given the green light to produce ventilators and other items needed during the coronavirus outbreak. It was not clear what Trump meant by the companies “being given the go ahead,” as the level of detail revealed by GM on Monday indicates the companies have been collaborating for some time to get it off the ground.
“Ventec Life Systems and General Motors have been working around the clock to implement plans to build more critical care ventilators,” GM spokesman Dan Flores said in an email on Monday. “With GM’s support, Ventec is now planning exponentially higher ventilator production as fast as possible.
“As part of those efforts, GM is exploring the feasibility to build ventilators for Ventec at a GM facility in Kokomo, Indiana,” he added.
First parts need to be delivered by suppliers to GM by April 6, the sources said. Supplier production could begin “within the next 2-3 weeks,” Amin said in his email. It was not clear when GM might begin production.
Creative Foam Corp in Fenton, Michigan, is one of the auto suppliers joining the effort, although it already had a division serving the healthcare sector.
The privately-owned company will start making foam parts for the ventilators’ air filtration system this week, CEO Phil Fioravante said. “We already have installed capacity, so we’re just repurposing it and utilizing it for this end.”
In Minneapolis, auto supplier Twin City Die Castings Co, which had signed a contract to supply Ventec about nine months ago, quickly amped up its plans, CEO Todd Olson said. The employee-owned company makes aluminum and magnesium parts for the ventilator compressor and housing.
Now Twin City is converting the parts it was making into die casts for higher-volume production as the volume target has gone from making parts for 150 ventilators a month to as many as 20,000, he said.
Such a conversion would normally have taken 12 weeks to complete, Olson said, but is being done in one week as employees work almost nonstop. In addition, Twin City and rivals are sharing intellectual property to speed the process. “Luckily, we had a nice jump on this,” Olson said.
On Friday, GM and Ventec Life Systems said they were teaming up to increase Ventec’s production of desperately needed ventilators. At the time, GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said the automaker would explore other ways to help beyond helping Ventec scale up production.
Ford declined to comment on its efforts, but suppliers said the No. 2 U.S. automaker is part of a task force on face masks.
On Sunday, Fiat Chrysler Automobile CEO Mike Manley told employees in an email that the Italian-American automaker would start converting one of its China plants to make face masks in the coming weeks and ultimately make over 1 million masks a month.
Last week, Reuters reported that FCA and Ferrari were working together to help boost ventilator production in Italy.
On Sunday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that the electric carmaker was working on ventilators, which “should arrive within a few days.” He added that he expected Tesla to have about 1,200 to distribute this week.
Musk said the day before that he had had a long engineering discussion with Medtronic PLC about ventilators.
He also said Sunday that Tesla also is working on getting other types of personal protective equipment and he told a hospital the company was sending masks and supplies.