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Michigan Mahindra plant makes medical shields from windshields

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

India-based Mahindra Group is joining the "Arsenal of Health" efforts spearheaded in Michigan by General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. to make medical personal protection equipment for health-care workers combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Roughly 20 employees at Mahindra's Auburn Hills manufacturing site are making aspiration boxes from the plastic polycarbonate windshields used in their vehicles, as well as face shields and masks. The boxes shield nurses and doctors when they remove a COVID-19 patient's intubation tubes

"Apparently it's a messy thing," said Rich Ansell, vice president of marketing and media relations. "They cough, spit and vomit. We're seeing high demand because it's just an innovative approach."

Employees at Mahindra Group's Auburn Hills plant are making aerosol boxes that protect nurses and doctors treating COVID-19 patients. The boxes are made from the same material used in the windshields of Mahindra's vehicles.

Other boxes can fog, but the version from the windshield material won't. It also is collapsible with six of the Mahindra-designed boxes taking up the space of a traditional one.

"We had the material on hand to get started," said Rick Haas, CEO of Mahindra Automotive North America. "We're also making face masks, but we're having challenges keeping supply and material in house. Everyone is trying to do that."

A drawing of the aspiration boxes Mahindra Group is making at its Auburn Hills plant to protect health-care workers caring for COVID-19 patients.

A Mahindra employee's wife who works in a critical care facility suggested making boxes. The company designed five versions that were tested. The plant, which shut down a month ago because of the virus, has been making them for about 10 days and continues to ramp up.

The product has received interest from across the country as well as internationally: The designs were sent to the company's headquarters in India to be manufactured there, where concern over the spreading virus necessitated a country-wide lockdown.

The company is working with the state, Michigan's congressional delegation, trade organizations, Oakland County and local businesses to get the products frontline workers need during the crisis. Additionally, Mahindra is distributing free meals to those workers in Oakland County after an employee who owns food trucks offered his assistance.

The automaker also has launched a delivery program to help dealers with closed showrooms sell its off-road Roxor vehicles.

Governments have forced automakers to spend billions on climate change. But now automakers are converting factories to build ventilators to fight a greater threat, corona-virus.

Meanwhile, GM on Tuesday — after less than a month of preparation — readied its first ventilators to ship from its Kokomo Operations facility in Indiana under a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services contract.

For $489.4 million, the Detroit automaker is supplying 30,000 of a Washington-based Ventec Life Systems' critical care device that helps patients with severe COVID-19 cases to breathe. GM intends to ship more than 600 of the devices this month and deliver all by the end of August. More than 1,000 employees are manufacturing them.

“Thousands of men and women at GM, Ventec, our suppliers and the Kokomo community have rallied to support their neighbors and the medical professionals on the front lines of this pandemic,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. “Everyone wants to help turn the tide and save lives. It is inspiring and humbling to see the passion and commitment people have put into this work.”

Peter Navarro, White House assistant to President Donald Trump, added in a statement: "GM has moved swiftly in Trump time to manufacture one of the most critical lifesaving devices in America’s war against the coronavirus."

Perrigo Co. plc employees at its New York facility are making thousands of bottles of hand sanitizers for West Michigan hospitals and the state police amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

And the Irish over-the-counter pharmaceutical manufacturer Perrigo Co. plc, with North American headquarters in Allegan, also is supporting Michigan hospitals. It is manufacturing at least 500,000 bottles of hand sanitizer at its New York facility. Some donations will go to Allegan General Hospital, Spectrum Health Hospitals and other health-care providers in West Michigan, as well as the Michigan State Police.

"Given our close ties in the communities where we work and live, we were made aware of the shortage and critical need for hand sanitizers in local area hospitals," Perrigo CEO Murray Kessler said in a statement. "Our team in New York sprang into action and were able to develop a formula, get it into production and ready initial shipments to hospitals within an extraordinarily compressed timeframe."

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble