Ford to produce tens of thousands of ventilators in coronavirus fight

Ford on Monday said it has struck a deal with GE Healthcare to begin manufacturing ventilators designed by a Florida company at a Blue Oval components plant in Michigan. Ford said it would build 50,000 units within 100 days and eventually scale up to 30,000 per month to help health care providers treat coronavirus patients.

Production will start the week of April 20 from its Rawsonville Plant, near Ann Arbor, of the Model A-E ventilator made by Airon Corp., which GE Healthcare is licensing and brought to Ford’s attention as part of a previously announced partnership to increase ventilator production. Ford said it will use more than 500 volunteer UAW workers who will receive full pay to make the units.

The Model A-E is said to be a less complicated version of a ventilator, a medical device that experts say is in critically short supply to help patients who have respiratory failure and need help to breathe because of the coronavirus. The unit operates on air pressure without the need for electricity and meets the needs of most coronavirus patients.

Ford last week announced plans to partner with GE Healthcare and 3M to make medical equipment including ventilators to help with the COVID-19 outbreak. Ford and GE Healthcare say progress is being made on efforts to have Ford manufacture a simplified form of the latter’s existing ventilator. GM on Friday announced it was partnering with Washington-based Ventec Life Systems to increase production of the latter’s ventilator from a GM plant in Indiana following a bizarre series of events in which President Trump attacked the company and its CEO, Mary Barra, and authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to require it to start manufacturing the devices.

GE Healthcare says it has already doubled production capacity for its ventilators at its assembly facility in Madison, Wis., during the first quarter and aims to double it again in the second quarter. Ford engineers and manufacturing employees have been working onsite there to help GE Healthcare ramp production more quickly.

Ford says it will employ a number of tactics to help keep the UAW workers at Rawsonville safe and mitigate the risk of infection, including enforcing social distancing, pre-screening workers before they enter the building, using barrier shields and plastic face shields that a Ford subsidiary is making in suburban Detroit. The first crews will undergo training with the Ford engineering team that is currently developing the production process. Second and third shifts will eventually be added, Ford said.

Ford said the same protections would be in place for all workers once factories are re-opened. The company declined to say Monday whether it was still planning to reopen its facilities April 14. Michigan is currently experiencing a worsening coronavirus outbreak, with more than 1,000 new confirmed cases reported statewide since Sunday and 52 deaths.