Cleveland, Ohio – Ford executive set an aggressive production target: 50,000 ventilators between two plants within 100 days and capacity for 30,000 per month thereafter to treat patients with COVID-19.
The automaker is working with GE Healthcare which licensed a simplified ventilator design from Airon Corp., a Florida producer of ventilators and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices. Ford engineers will initially work with Airon to boost production from three units per day at one plant in Florida to more than 7,000 per week between that plant in the company’s Rawnsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
“The Ford and GE Healthcare teams, working creatively and tirelessly, have found a way to produce this vitally needed ventilator quickly and in meaningful numbers,” said Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and CEO. “By producing this ventilator in Michigan, in strong partnership with the United Auto Workers (UAW), we can help health care workers save lives, and that’s our No. 1 priority.”
Ford hopes to have production running in Ypsilanti by April 20 to meet the production goals. President Donald Trump has challenged companies to produce 100,000 ventilators within the next 100 days.
General Motors (GM) announced its plans to help meet that goal last week when it said it would make Ventec Life Systems ventilators in Indiana. The GM announcement came amid bitter taunts from Trump, insulting GM CEO Mary Barra, criticizing GM’s pricing (automaker officials say they’re working at cost), and complaining about GM not being able to meet production targets that the company never set.
Trump triggered the Defense Production Act (DPA), a 1950s era law that allows the federal government to order businesses to make emergency supplies, to command GM to make ventilators several hours after GM announced it was doing so.
White House DPA Coordinator Peter Navarro praised Ford, saying, “Just as Ford in the last century moved its manufacturing might seamlessly from auto to tank production during World War II, the Ford team is working with GE Healthcare to use its awesome engineering and manufacturing capabilities to voluntarily help this nation solve one of its most pressing problems.”
GE and Ford officials say the GE/Airon Model A-E ventilator uses a design that operates on air pressure without the need for electricity. It is well suited to meet the needs of mostCOVID-19 patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing. The ventilator is designed for quick setup and can be deployed in an emergency room setting, during special procedures, or in an intensive care unit.
Ford expects to produce 1,500 by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May and 50,000 by July 4.
The automaker plans to bring 500 UAW members in to Rawsonville on three shifts to make ventilators 24-7. Workers will make full pay while assembling ventilators, and employees will have to volunteer to join the effort.
“From the days of Rosie the Riveter, UAW members have stepped up during difficult times in this nation’s history for the good of us all,” said UAW International President Rory Gamble. “Today’s announcement by Ford that UAW employees will make ventilators at Rawsonville is in that tradition.”
The Airon-licensed Model A-E ventilator is the second Ford-GE Healthcare ventilator collaboration. Last week, Ford and GE Healthcare announced a separate effort to produce a simplified ventilator design from GE Healthcare. In that partnership, Ford is offering expertise and logistics but has not yet announced manufacturing plans.
GE Healthcare President and CEO Kieran Murphy said, “Our deep understanding of the health care industry with Ford’s supply chain and production expertise will help meet the unprecedented demand for medical equipment. We continue to be encouraged by how quickly companies are coming together in innovative ways to address this collective challenge.”
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 20 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.