3M and Ford will work together to make more air-purifying respirators for health care workers, likely at one of Ford’s Michigan factories.
The announcement Tuesday is one piece of how automakers will remake their ailing businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. Last week, the Big 3 auto companies said they were halting vehicle production during the crisis, and President Donald Trump announced over the weekend that they would retool the factories to meet the needs of health care providers.
Twin City Die Castings in Minneapolis is part of General Motors’ “Project V,” a partnership with ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems.
Ford, as part of its “Project Apollo,” also will be working with GE Healthcare on making ventilators and with the United Auto Workers to make full-face shields that first responders could pair with N95 respirator masks.
Separately, Ford and 3M are partnering to make 3M’s hooded “powered air-purifying respirators” (PAPR) in a repurposed Ford factory. 3M and Ford said they are still working out details but that they are determined to respond quickly to the dire health care needs exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Bill Ford, the automaker’s executive chairman, told NBC-TV’s “Today” show on Tuesday that the company is now “going into our parts bin to see what can be done” to help 3M make its much needed hooded respirators.
“We are using fans from our electric seats that are air cooled and heated,” he said. “We are finding that those fans are useful in producing some of these other items.”
Ford CEO Jim Hackett said Ford has “empowered our engineers and designers to move as quickly as possible to help 3M grow PAPR production using common parts to speed this up. We are also volunteering our facilities for additional production.”
The PAPRs that 3M makes are in short supply as coronavirus spreads. The products are different from the N95 respirator masks that 3M also makes and for which it recently doubled production levels.
Unlike the N95 masks, which look like white cloth and seal around the mouth and nose, 3M’s powered air-purifying respirators use a waist-mounted, battery-powered blower that sends filtered air into a hood that helps provide respiratory protection for workers, including those in health care.
“We’re exploring all available opportunities to further expand 3M’s capacity and get health care supplies as quickly as possible to where they’re needed most — which includes partnering with other great companies like Ford,” said 3M CEO Mike Roman in a statement.
The new manufacturing partnership work will probably take place in a Ford plant in Michigan. The GE ventilators and first-responder shields also will be made in Michigan.
General Motors’ Kokomo, Ind., plant is expected to make 95% of the parts for Seattle-based Ventec’s ventilators. It will ramp up as soon as it can get pistons, housings and other cast components from companies such as Twin City Die Castings, which has factories in Minneapolis and Monticello in Minnesota, and in South Dakota.
Twin City Die Castings had already signed a contract with Ventec nine months ago and was making parts for about 150 ventilators a month. Now, as part of the new GM deal, it is making parts for 20,000 ventilators a month, with the goal of 200,000 by the end of the year, CEO Todd Olson said.
GM is expected to lend Ventec factory space and possible equipment, Olson said.
If all works out, the fresh revenue will help the 225-worker die castings firm recover some of the sales lost last week when auto-parts orders started drying up, Olson said.
Other Minnesota plants also have boosted medical-parts manufacturing in recent days as they try to combat the coronavirus. Medtronic, Protolabs and Wyoming Machine are all now starting to make or increase production of ventilator parts, while Stratasys in Eden Prairie and Texas is using its 3-D printing machines to make 5,000 face shields for hospital workers.
3M has doubled its global output of N95 respirator masks to a rate of more than 1.1 billion per year, or nearly 100 million per month. Its South Dakota mask plant is now operating 24/7 as are 3M’s other mask factories around the globe.
This week, Roman said 3M sent more than 500,000 respirators from its South Dakota plant to New York and Seattle. “We are also ready to expedite additional shipments across the country,” he said.
Roman added that 3M will make new investments and partnerships in an effort to ramp up production even more to 2 billion N95 masks a year within the next 12 months. 3M did not disclose how many additional hooded PAPR systems it hopes to make now that it has partnered with Ford.
3M said that it is making unspecified investments, and “working with the U.S. and other governments, investigating alternate manufacturing scenarios, and exploring coalitions with other companies to increase capacity further” as it races to get more products into the hands of hospital and health workers battling the virus.
In addition to boosting output of N95 respirator masks and its powered air-purifying respirators, 3M said it maximized production of hand sanitizers, disinfectants and other products used to protect against the coronavirus.
Reuters contributed to this story.