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Automaker Retools With Health Supply Companies To Make Masks, Ventilators

Ford has teamed up with 3M and GE Healthcare to speed up the production of personal protective gear for health care workers and of ventilators for people in acute respiratory distress amid the coronavirus epidemic.

"We see the need and we want to jump in and help," Jim Baumbick, vice president for enterprise product line management at Ford Motor Co., told reporters during a teleconference Tuesday morning announcing the new efforts.

Ford executives say the company will work with GE Healthcare to expand production of a simplified version of GE's existing ventilator design.

Mechanical ventilators provide life-support treatment. For very ill people, access to a ventilator can be the difference between survival and death.

Ventilators are used to get oxygen into the lungs of people who cannot breathe well enough on their own. There's concern that the U.S. could run short of ventilators if cases of coronavirus surge.

"We have empowered our teams of engineers and designers to be scrappy and creative to quickly help scale up production of this vital equipment," said Jim Hackett, Ford's president and CEO, in a news release about the new initiatives.

"We've been in regular dialogue with federal, state and local officials to understand the areas of greatest needs," Hackett said. "We are focusing our efforts to help increase the supply of respirators, face shields and ventilators that can help assist health care workers, first responders, critical workers as well as those who have been infected by the virus."

Ford says it will work with the United Auto Workers to manufacture plastic face shields at its Troy Design and Manufacturing Co. plant in Michigan. They say they plan to manufacture 75,000 this week — with 100,000 weekly by April.

In addition, Ford is working with 3M to scale production of powered-air purifying respirators using a combination of 3M and Ford parts. And the company says it will leverage its in-house 3D-printing capability to produce disposable respirator masks for health care workers.

"We're exploring all available opportunities to further expand 3M's capacity and get healthcare supplies as quickly as possible to where they're needed most," Mike Roman, chairman of the board and chief executive officer at 3M, said in a news release. "It's crucial that we mobilize all resources to protect lives and defeat this disease."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.