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Ford Scales Up Ventilator Production for Coronavirus Treatment

Ford hopes to be fully ramped up to 30,000 per month within 100 days.

Ford, in partnership with GE Healthcare, announced it will produce 50,000 ventilators in Michigan in the next 100 days and 30,000 a month afterwards. That is a huge, rapid scaling—Ford typically builds cars and their components, not specialized medical equipment. Ventilators help push oxygen into patients' damaged or faltering lungs, essentially inflating the organs with air to keep them from collapsing.

Helping Ford get off the ground quickly is the ventilator design it will be producing: The Airon ventilator its workers will build is a more basic model of ventilator, chosen specifically because its simplified design can be produced more quickly. And it is a good solution for patients with the COVID-19 virus. The units can be set up quickly in an emergency room or field hospital, as well as see use in an intensive-care unit (ICU); these robust ventilators also operate on air pressure without the need for electricity. GE Healthcare is licensing the ventilator design from Airon Corp. of Florida. Besides ventilators, Ford also has recently dabbled in prototyping a protective respirator for medical professionals to use that incorporates F-150 pickup-truck parts.

Production to Begin in April

Ford will begin making the ventilators April 20 at Ford's Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan. The workforce will consist of more than 500 Ford workers who will volunteer for the job, for which they will be paid. Eventually there will be shifts with more workers making ventilators. Ford and GE Healthcare representatives made clear to us during a press call that the UAW workers tapped to make ventilators will be pre-screened and they will be given proper gear to ensure their health and safety.

Things are moving quickly: Ford and GE are installing tooling and processes for ventilators that contain hundreds of parts; the sourcing of parts is already underway; and worker training will begin in the coming days. In addition to GE Healthcare staff trainers, there will be videos for employees to aid the learning curve.

Ford has also sent a team to work with Airon in Florida to boost production there. When production is added in Rawsonville, the ramp up calls for 1,500 ventilators by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May, and 50,000 by July 4. For a sense of the staggering manufacturing muscle Ford brings to the project: Airon makes three ventilators a day in Florida—and Ford will make 7,200 a week in Michigan. To suss out any issues that could arise from such rapid scaling, every ventilator will be 100 percent validated and tested before it is shipped. A ventilator currently retails for about $7,000.

Capacity Boosted at GE Healthcare Plant

The Rawsonville production capacity comes in an addition to previously announced plans by Ford and GE Healthcare to increase ventilator capacity at existing GE plants using Ford production techniques. Ford teams are on site at the GE Healthcare plant in Madison Wisconsin, which has already ramped up the output of ventilators. Production will double again in the second quarter. The Madison plant makes a different ventilator.

Ford is not alone in working with the government to meet the demand for medical equipment. General Motors has been in the spotlight in recent days as President Trump used the Defense Production Act to compel GM to make medical supplies, a curious move given that GM had already volunteered to make ventilators and was a week into preparations when the order—and disparaging comments from Trump—were made. Trump later praised GM for its efforts.