Ford, Fiat, GM To Make Med Supplies To Combat COVID-19

By Linda Chiem
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Law360 (March 24, 2020, 7:48 PM EDT) -- American auto giants Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler have said they'll help manufacture critical medical supplies such as face shields, masks and respirators for health care workers and first responders to combat the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus.

The auto companies, which last week temporarily shut down their plants across the country to shield employees and slow the spread of COVID-19, detailed plans to collaborate with various medical equipment makers to ramp up production on face shields, masks, respirators and ventilators that government and health officials have said are in increasingly short supply.

This comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Sunday eased certain restrictions for manufacturing ventilators and respirators to allow medical device makers to more easily change existing products and automakers to repurpose their production lines.

Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday that it will team up with 3M to produce a new design of a powered air-purifying respirator that uses parts from both companies. The PAPR would have ready-made parts, such as fans for airflow, from Ford F-150s' cooled seats, as well as 3M HEPA air filters to eliminate airborne contaminants such as droplets that carry virus particles, according to Ford.

The goal is to produce the newly designed PAPR at one of Ford's Michigan auto plants, where employees are members of the United Auto Workers labor union, according to Ford.

"This is such a critical time for America and the world. It is a time for action and cooperation," Ford's Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement Tuesday. "By coming together across multiple industries, we can make a real difference for people in need and for those on the front lines of this crisis."

3M's board chairman and CEO Mike Roman said in a statement Tuesday that it's "crucial that we mobilize all resources to protect lives and defeat this disease."

"We're exploring all available opportunities to further expand 3M's capacity and get health care supplies as quickly as possible to where they're needed most — which includes partnering with other great companies like Ford," Roman said.

Ford also plans to work with GE Healthcare to produce more ventilators. Other efforts include manufacturing more than 100,000 face shields each week at Ford subsidiary Troy Design and Manufacturing's facilities in Plymouth, Michigan, and using in-house 3D printing at Ford's Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan, to make components for other personal protective equipment, the company said.

"We are encouraged by how quickly companies from across industries have mobilized to address the growing challenge we collectively face from COVID-19," GE Healthcare President and CEO Kieran Murphy said in a statement Tuesday.

"We are proud to bring our clinical and technical expertise to this collaboration with Ford, working together to serve unprecedented demand for this life-saving technology and urgently support customers as they meet patient needs," Murphy added.

Ford's plans come a day after Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said that it would manufacture and donate more than 1 million protective face masks per month to frontline health care workers, first responders and law enforcement in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

FCA CEO Mike Manley said in a statement Monday that protecting first responders and health care workers has never been more important and that the company will work with national, regional and city authorities to ensure that the face masks get to the people and facilities that need them most.

"In addition to the support we are giving to increase the production of ventilators, we canvassed our contacts across the health care industry and it was very clear that there is an urgent and critical need for face masks," Manley said.

Last week, General Motors said it would work with Ventec Life Systems to boost production of Ventec's ventilators and other respiratory care products.

"We are working closely with Ventec to rapidly scale up production of their critically important respiratory products to support our country's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic," GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said in a March 20 statement. "We will continue to explore ways to help in this time of crisis."

President Donald Trump on March 18 signed an executive order invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, a wartime law that makes the federal government the top priority for receiving medical equipment to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

The DPA has since only been used to help the Federal Emergency Management Agency procure approximately 60,000 COVID-19 test kits for health care workers, officials said Tuesday. Trump has resisted calls to officially order private companies to expedite the production of medical equipment, saying many companies are already volunteering to do so on their own.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted, "Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST! @fema Go for it auto execs, lets see how good you are?"

--Editing by JoVona Taylor.

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