Ford to produce 50,000 ventilators in Michigan in next 100 days with GE Healthcare

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. will produce 50,000 ventilators in Michigan over the next three months with GE Healthcare, the Dearborn automaker said Monday.

The collaboration at the Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti will start production the week of April 20. After President Donald Trump on Friday called out Ford and General Motors Co. to move fast on making ventilators, Ford says it is helping the U.S. government meet its goal of producing 100,000 ventilators in 100 days.

Ford Motor Co. – in collaboration with GE Healthcare and Florida-based Airon Corp. – will build the Model A-E Ventilator at its Rawsonville Components Plant starting in April.

"We found a design that was absolutely robust in terms of its capability, something we believe we could scale quickly in terms of manufacturing, and it met the full needs of our frontline defenders in the war on COVID-19," Adrian Price, Ford's director of global manufacturing core engineering, said during a conference call.

The initiative is in addition to the announcement it made last week with GE and the 3M Co. to boost production of their ventilators and powered air-purifying respirators. That was said to happen in the coming days and weeks.

Ford will produce Models A-E ventilators designed by Florida-based Airon Corp. The models are simple versions to support patients that have difficulty breathing or are experiencing respiratory failure and operates on air pressure instead of electricity.

The devices already have approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration and GE Healthcare is licensing the designs so Ford can build them. The companies already are seeking emergency-use authorization for Rawsonville to make them.

"What’s really important is the rate at which we’re moving, the speed," said Jim Baumbick, Ford Motor Co. vice president of enterprise product line management. "The reduction of complexity around this Airon device enables us to actually move more swiftly given the urgent surge need."

A Model A-E ventilator, left, and a simple test lung. The ventilator uses a design that operates on air pressure without the need for electricity.

Ford expects to build 1,500 of the device by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May and 50,000 by July 4. After that, Ford could produce 30,000 ventilators a month.

Trump on Friday gave an order under the Defense Production Act to press GM to produce ventilators sooner, despite the automaker saying it was moving forward with plans to build 10,000 devices a month in Kokomo, Indiana, for Washington-based Ventec Life Systems. Trump on Sunday changed his tune, saying GM was doing "fantastic." Trump also had called on Ford to move "fast."

"The Ford/GE Healthcare team is moving in ‘Trump time’ to speed urgently needed ventilators to the front lines of the Trump Administration’s full-scale war against the coronavirus," Peter Navarro, White House Defense Production Act coordinator, said in a statement. "Just as Ford in the last century moved its manufacturing might seamlessly from auto to tank production during World War II, the Ford team is working with GE Healthcare to use its awesome engineering and manufacturing capabilities to voluntarily help this nation solve one of its most pressing problems."

Three shifts of 500 United Auto Workers-represented paid volunteers will build the devices. They will undergo screenings, and Ford will put barriers between employees in addition to implementing appropriate social-distancing measures. The volunteers also will test the machines before Ford ships them.

“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."

GE's choice to contract with Ford comes despite the Communications Workers of America union calling on GE to use its aviation workers to build ventilators after GE last week announced layoffs in the division.

"Our decision to select Ford was based specifically upon speed and our ability to increase capacity as fast as we could," said Tom Westrick, chief quality officer at GE Healthcare. "We thought Ford was a great partner to do so."

Ford and GE Healthcare also continue to develop a simplified version of GE's own ventilator in hopes of doubling output. Additionally, Ford subsidiary Troy Design & Manufacturing Co. in Plymouth is make face shields for health-care workers and first responders, and its Redford Township advanced manufacturing center is looking to 3D-print disposable respirators.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble