It’s all systems go for Ford in its efforts to design and produce medical supplies, which are vital for health workers, first responders and patients fighting coronavirus. The US is now the epicentre of the global pandemic, with the highest amount of Covid-19 cases and deaths.

In addition to the current production of more than three million face shields, production of a Ford-designed powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) started on April 14. The Blue Oval is also is now producing face masks and leading an effort to scale production of reusable gowns for health care workers.

Lastly, Ford has started providing manufacturing expertise to help scientific instrument provider Thermo Fisher Scientific quickly expand production of Covid-19 collection kits to test for the virus.

“We knew that to play our part helping combat coronavirus, we had to go like hell and join forces with experts like 3M to expand production of urgently needed medical equipment and supplies. In just three weeks under Project Apollo, we’ve unleashed our world-class manufacturing, purchasing and design talent to get scrappy and start making personal protection equipment (PPE) and help increase the availability and production of ventilators,” said Jim Baumbick, VP of Ford Enterprise Product Line Management.

Since late March, Ford manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain experts have been embedded at 3M manufacturing facilities to help increase production of urgently needed products. With this additional help, 3M and Ford were able to increase the output of PAPRs and N95 respirators at 3M’s US-based factories.

Ford will start producing an all-new PAPR design. Rapidly designing components and prototyping in accordance with federal guidelines and with 3M expert support and guidance, Ford teams reduced PAPR development time to less than four weeks. Around 90 paid UAW volunteers will assemble PAPRs at Ford’s Vreeland facility near Flat Rock, Michigan, with the ability to make 100,000 or more.

The PAPR includes a hood and face shield to cover heads and shoulders, while a HEPA filter system provides a supply of filtered air for up to eight hours. The air blower system – similar to the fan found in the F-150’s ventilated seats – is powered by a rechargeable, portable battery, helping keep the respirator in constant use by first-line defenders.

The team expects the respirator design will meet the pending National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) limited-use protocol to respond to the Covid-19 public health emergency, with approval anticipated by the end of April. Pending approval, 3M will distribute the PAPRs through its US network to help bring these items quickly and efficiently to health care workers. 3M and Ford will donate any profits they earn from the sale of the PAPR to Covid-19 related non-profit organisations.

As for face masks, Ford is now manufacturing them for internal use globally and pursuing certification for medical use. Ford’s global manufacturing and purchasing teams quickly sourced the necessary materials and equipment from its network around the world. Production started earlier this week.

Approximately 30 UAW paid volunteers will start making masks in an ISO Class 8 cleanroom, which is a controlled environment with extremely low levels of pollutants. Eventually, around 80 UAW paid volunteers will make masks as production increases.

Another main PPE component in high demand is gowns, and Ford is leading efforts to manufacture reusable gowns with airbag supplier Joyson Safety Systems. The go-fast project has created reusable gowns made from material used to make airbags. Production will reach 75,000 gowns a week by Sunday and scale up to 100,000 gowns for the week of April 19 and beyond. By July 4, the Ford supplier will cut and sew 1.3 million gowns, which are washable up to 50 times.

Ford worked with Beaumont Health in Metro Detroit to quickly design the gown pattern and test for sizing during fit and function trials. More than 5,000 gowns have already been delivered to the hospital.

Lastly, Ford is helping scale production of collection kits for Covid-19 tests at Thermo Fisher Scientific. The latter’s engineering team in Kansas realized their expertise, combined with the manufacturing expertise of Ford’s nearby Kansas plant’s engineering team, could help set up additional collection kit production machinery. The Ford team also helped Thermo Fisher adapt machinery that currently runs glass vials for other products to run plastic vials required in drive-through coronavirus test collection.

As announced earlier, Ford has been making full-face shields for medical workers. As of April 13, Ford had made more than three million face shields for medical personnel and first responders. Besides the US, face shield production has started globally at Ford facilities in Canada and Thailand, and with Ford’s JV partner Mahindra in India.

“We are doing all we can to expand production and availability of personal protective equipment to help keep the true heroes – medical personnel – and our communities safe in the fight against Covid-19,” said Adrian Price, director, Global Core Engineering for Vehicle Manufacturing.

Kudos and thank you Ford!

GALLERY: Ford’s powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR)

GALLERY: Ford’s face masks and gowns