In mid-March, CEO Jim Hackett tasked a team of officials — usually in charge of imagining creative ways to design and develop new vehicles more quickly — with seeing how Ford could help. Within days, the group was in touch with medical equipment makers such as GE and 3M; White House officials; and doctors at the Mayo Clinic, all of whom stressed the need for ventilators, respirators, face shields and masks.
Ford employees were quickly given assignments — some of which included immediately driving across the country — to either assist medical equipment suppliers in building needed products or gathering materials to design their own. The multipronged effort was code-named Project Apollo, inspired by the creative problem-solving exhibited during the pressure-packed Apollo 13 space mission.
Doug Rickert was among the first Ford employees contacted to assist 3M in manufacturing N95 masks — a stint that would last nearly a month. After a 16-hour drive to Aberdeen, S.D., the engineer toured 3M's facilities and, alongside a couple dozen other Ford employees, helped the company reduce downtime and improve the efficiency of its assembly line, instantly boosting production of sorely needed equipment for front-line medical workers.
Five of the six main components of 3M's N95 mask use some type of plastic. Its straps are made from thermoplastic elastomers, the nose foam is polyurethane and the filter is polypropylene fiber. The mask's shell and cover both are made of polyester.
"When we got there, we weren't sure if we were actually going to have an impact or not," he said. "And pretty soon, within a day or so, we started to realize we were going to have an impact, and that continued over the course of three weeks."
Back in Michigan, Ford talked with officials from its China joint venture who had learned how to quickly produce nonmedical-grade masks. Its logistics team scrambled to secure the necessary equipment, and after a harrowing few days, including a jumbo jet engine failure and last-second assist from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it started churning out masks for its own workers at an idled transmission plant in Michigan.