Ventilators and respirators become a critical but limited supply item when a pandemic such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) occurs. Since air pressure and air flow are involved in both, pressure sensors are an integral part of many products. As different aspects of society pull together or respond to the implementation of the Defense Production Act, unusual alliances can occur – for example, car companies working with ventilator and respirator manufacturers. However, since a car company (Ford Motor Company) invented the concept of the assembly line to reduce manufacturing time, it may not be such an unusual alliance.
Ford has at least two partnerships, one for ventilators and one for respirators. In the short term, Ford is working with GE Healthcare to expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s existing ventilator with the essential functions required to safely treat COVID-19 patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing. GE has expanded its own production since the COVID-19 outbreak began and the collaboration with Ford will add even more capacity to fight the shortage.
Ford is also working with 3M to manufacture at scale Powered Air-Purifying Respirators (PAPRs). A new design will leverage parts from both companies to meet the urgent demand for first responders and health care workers.
Utilizing available components is one of the design team’s challenges. Fans from the Ford F-150’s cooled seats solved the airflow problem. Portable tool battery packs provide the power and 3M HEPA air filters filter airborne contaminants.
In addition to 3M production, Ford is investigating the production of the new PAPR in a Ford facility in one of its Michigan manufacturing facilities. This added capacity could help 3M boost production potentially tenfold.