GM to deliver first 20K face masks next week, ramp to 1.5 million per month

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — General Motors Co. said Tuesday it plans to deliver by April 8 its first 20,000 face masks to frontline workers fighting COVID-19.

Once at full capacity, the Detroit automaker says it will have the capability to produce about 1.5 million masks per month at the Warren Transmission plant it closed last year. 

The announcement of go-fast mask production comes after President Donald Trump last Friday blasted GM for "wasting time" in its efforts to produce ventilators in a joint venture with Washington-based Ventec Life Systems — charges GM denies. The president signed an order under the Defense Production Act to press GM to produce ventilators sooner, despite the automaker confirming that it is moving forward with plans to build 10,000 devices a month in Kokomo, Indiana.

Engineers and technicians set up and test the machines that will be used to manufacture Level 1 face masks on March 30, 2020 at the General Motors Warren manufacturing facility.

GM launched mask production on March 20, and a week later the team there had produced its first sample on a new production line. More than 30 engineers, designers, buyers and members of the manufacturing team are helping with product development, sourcing materials and equipment and planning the production process.

“Working around the clock, our team rallied with incredible passion and focus to come up with a plan to produce masks that will help protect the women and men on the front lines of this crisis," Peter Thom, GM vice president for global manufacturing engineering, said in a statement. 

Raw materials, including metal nose pieces, elastic straps and blown, non-woven fabric filter material, were sourced using GM’s existing supply chain. GM collaborated with JR Automation in Holland and Esys Automation in Auburn Hills to design and build the custom machinery needed to assemble the masks.

Engineers and technicians set-up and test the machines that will be used to manufacture Level 1 face masks March 30, 2020 at the General Motors Warren manufacturing facility.

The first mask came off the line at 2:30 p.m. last Friday. By Monday, more than 2,000 test masks were produced at the plant. These masks will be used to ensure quality standards are met before production begins.

“Not only did the team make their goal, but they over-delivered,” Thom said. “They actually beat our deadline, running the first mask through the equipment 30 minutes ahead of target. We’re excited because this means we’re even closer to being able to protect the healthcare teams who are working tirelessly to save lives.”

When the line is running at full speed, it will be able to produce up to 50,000 masks every day. GM and the United Auto Workers are seeking more than two dozen paid volunteers from Detroit-area plants to staff the mask operations.