Ford Motor Co. said March 30 that it's partnering with GE Healthcare to build 50,000 ventilators in Michigan within the next 100 days to help meet demand as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
The Model A-E ventilators were designed by Airon Corp., a privately held company based in Melbourne, Fla., specializing in high-tech pneumatic life-support products, and licensed by GE. The ventilator uses a simplified design that operates on air pressure, without the need for electricity.
Ford said it's already sent a team to work with Airon to boost production of the ventilators in Florida.
By the week of April 20, it plans to start building the machines at its Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Mich. Ford, in a release, said it expects to produce 1,500 ventilators by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May and 50,000 by July 4.
After that, Ford predicts it will be able to build up to 30,000 ventilators a month as needed.
"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," Ford CEO Jim Hackett said in a statement. "By producing this ventilator in Michigan, in strong partnership with the UAW, we can help health care workers save lives, and that's our No. 1 priority."
The Rawsonville plant will use 500 paid volunteer UAW workers to build ventilators on three shifts.
Ford said Airon currently produces a different model ventilator at a rate of three per day in Florida. At full production, Ford plans to build 7,200 Model A-E ventilators per week.
The model uses between 250-400 components and sub-assemblies, according to officials, and retails for $7,000.
The suppliers for the program includes Toolless Plastic Solutions Inc., a Seattle-area manufacturer of specialized housings for medical devices. Toolless will do an initial production run of 500 housings for the progam.
"We are in hurry-up mode and have been working overtime since being contacted by Ford about a week ago," Kathryn Harja, the company's VP and chief financial officer, said in an April 7 news release. "We had to set aside all other customers to hit this deadline, and we are dedicating this entire week to completing this order for Ford."
Toolless has 17 employees who work in a 10,000-square-foot facility. The company has implemented social distancing and suggested hygienic procedures for its employees to safely work on the production line.
"When we told our crew that we would be jumping into this project one of our employees said, 'So we get to be heroes,'" Harja said.
"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," UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement. "Today's announcement by Ford that UAW employees will make ventilators at Rawsonville is in that tradition. We are working very closely with Ford to make sure that all CDC guidelines are followed and that we are exercising an abundance of caution inside the plant. Ford and our UAW Ford members should be commended for stepping up in these very uncertain times."
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., applauded the partnership for the production of "critically needed supplies to fight COVID-19."
"This critical production will happen in the near-geographic location as the Arsenal of Democracy during World War II," Dingell said in a March 30 statement. "Today, we are at war with an invisible enemy that is endangering our lives and livelihoods."
Ford is among a number of automakers, including General Motors, that are helping to produce desperately needed medical equipment as the pandemic worsens. President Donald Trump last week invoked the Defense Production Act to compel GM to build ventilators, which it had committed to do with partner Ventec.
In addition to the simplified Airon model, Ford is continuing to work with GE to boost production of more complex GE-designed ventilators at GE-owned facilities. Ford expects to help the health care company double its output in the coming weeks.