Jump to content

At Trump’s request, Ford and GM help ventilator makers boost output


Karlston
 Share

Recommended Posts

At Trump’s request, Ford and GM help ventilator makers boost output

It's not easy to build a ventilator assembly line from scratch.

At Trump’s request, Ford and GM help ventilator makers boost output
Taechit Taechamanodom

One of the most crucial things the United States can do to prepare for the surging coronavirus outbreak is to beef up our stockpile of ventilators. These mechanical breathing machines are crucial for keeping patients with severe cases of COVID-19 alive. The United States currently has around 170,000 of the devices; experts say that may not be enough if the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow exponentially.

 

On Sunday, President Donald Trump tweeted that "Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST!" (Presumably he meant "medical products.")

 

This is an apparent reference to new guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, published Sunday, that dramatically loosens the agency's normally strict oversight of ventilator technology. The new policy not only gives medical professionals broader latitude to modify existing FDA-approved ventilators, it also creates a streamlined process for complete newcomers to the ventilator market to get FDA approval.

 

So car companies have been swinging into action. GM announced a partnership with ventilator manufacturer Ventec last Friday. On Tuesday morning, Ford announced its own ventilator partnership with GE Healthcare.

 

But ventilators are complex machines that can cost as much as $50,000 apiece. Reliability is crucial, since even a brief malfunction or loss of power could cost a patient his or her life. So it wouldn't be practical for any company to design and build ventilators from scratch in a few months. Instead, car companies are looking for ways to help existing vendors expand their output.

GM and Ford are supporting existing ventilator companies

Operators and assemblers assemble medical face shields. Ford is aiming to produce 100,000 plastic face shields per week.
Enlarge / Operators and assemblers assemble medical face shields. Ford is aiming to produce 100,000 plastic face shields per week.

In a Friday press release, GM announced a partnership with medical device company Ventec.

 

"Ventec will leverage GM’s logistics, purchasing and manufacturing expertise to build more of their critically important ventilators," the two companies wrote in a joint press release.

 

GM's main contribution seems to be helping Ventec beef up its supply chain. Like other automakers, GM sits at the apex of a vast network of suppliers, some of which have sophisticated manufacturing capabilities. GM is working to connect Ventec with suppliers who can supply scarce parts, allowing Ventec to boost output.

 

Dustin Walsh, writing for Crain's Detroit, points to one example where GM has been helping Ventec. A GM supplier called Meridian is "helping GM procure six different ventilator compressor parts made of magnesium for an estimated 200,000 ventilators," Walsh wrote. Meridian's own machines couldn't produce the necessary parts, but Meridian connected GM with two other companies—competitors of Meridian—that were able to produce them.

 

Another GM supplier "plans to start manufacturing foam parts for ventilators," according to Walsh.

 

On Tuesday, Ford announced it was also getting into the ventilator business, though the details remain hazy.

 

"Ford and GE Healthcare are working together to expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s existing ventilator design to support patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing caused by COVID-19," Ford said in a press release. "These ventilators could be produced at a Ford manufacturing site in addition to a GE location."

 

Ford says that "work on this initiative ties to a request for help from US government officials."

 

Ford is also planning to manufacture other medical equipment, including respirators (in partnership with 3M) and face shields.

Other ventilator makers are expanding on their own

Tesla, meanwhile, has talked to leading medical device company Medtronic.

 

"Just had a long engineering discussion with Medtronic about state-of-the-art ventilators," Elon Musk tweeted on Saturday. "Very impressive team!"

 

Medtronic's own tweet about the meeting was cordial but noncommittal: " We are grateful for the discussion with @ElonMusk and @Tesla as we work across industries to solve problems and get patients and hospitals the tools they need to continue saving lives," the company wrote.

 

Medtronic has been working to boost its output without help from Tesla. Last week, the company announced that it was on track to double its rate of ventilator production and said it intended to double the workforce at its ventilator factory in Ireland.

 

"Ventilator manufacturing is a complex process that relies on a skilled workforce, a global supply chain and a rigorous regulatory regime to ensure patient safety," Medtronic said in its press statement.

 

Meanwhile, existing ventilator makers have been rushing to increase their output. GE's Health Care division announced plans to increase ventilator production—including having staff work around the clock. Swedish medical device company Getinge, Swiss company Hamilton, and Dutch electronics giant Philips are also working to boost ventilator production.

The importance of government orders

One of the most important things governments can do to promote ventilator production is to commit to buying ventilators in the future. Right now, medical device companies are able to sell ventilators as fast as they come off their existing assembly lines.

 

But big increases in ventilator output will require companies to make expensive investments in new manufacturing capacity. That's a risky bet because the investments might become worthless if the coronavirus crisis peters out after a few months. The world could wind up with a big surplus of ventilators. Hospitals, too, may be reluctant to spend tens of thousands of dollars on ventilators that they might only need for a few months.

 

Governments can reduce the risk manufacturers face by placing big orders for ventilators now. Having big orders in hand will make manufacturers more willing to make up-front investments to fill those orders.

 

Of course, that creates a risk that the government will end up with a glut of ventilators it doesn't need. But it seems better to risk having too many ventilators in a few months than to risk having too few.

 

 

Source: At Trump’s request, Ford and GM help ventilator makers boost output (Ars Technica)  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Before there are any replies, just a gentle reminder of one of the Forum Guidelines...

 

Quote

This forum revolves around topics of a technical nature, which happen to be discussed by people from many nationalities, ethnicities and political backgrounds. In order to focus on what unites us all, rather than what divides us, cultural, national and/or political issues are not to be discussed.

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[Opinion] New York Can’t Wait Until June for Ventilators

 

Ford is partnering with GE to make ventilators, but without more direct federal intervention, the effort will take too long and likely fall short.

 

Ford Motor Co. announced a three-pronged effort on Tuesday to help the U.S. bolster its supply of life-saving medical equipment needed to combat the coronavirus. Even as its North American factories remain shuttered for traditional car-making work, Ford is partnering with General Electric Co. to scale up production of that company’s ventilators; it’s working with 3M Co. to manufacture respirators; and its United Auto Workers employees will assemble more than 100,000 plastic face shields a week. It was an impressive show of goodwill, especially for a company whose bloated balance sheet places it among those most vulnerable from a looming, sharp economic downturn.

 

And it’s not going to be enough. 

 

Ford expects the first ventilators from its GE partnership — simplified models of what the industrial giant usually makes — to be ready by early June, CEO Jim Hackett told CBS This Morning on Tuesday. Just hours later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo held a press conference and warned that the coronavirus is spreading faster in the state than previously anticipated, putting the area on course to hit the apex of cases in as soon as 14 days. At that point, it will need 140,000 total hospital beds and an additional 30,000 ventilators. “You cannot buy them, you cannot find them. Every state is trying to get them, other countries are trying to get them,” Cuomo said of ventilators. While the governor said it’s admirable that companies such as Ford and General Motors Co. are willing to get into the business, “it does us no good if they start to create a ventilator in three weeks or four weeks or five weeks.”

 

Therein lies the problem. On March 16, I wrote about how America needed to once again marshal its great arsenal of democracy and put the nation’s manufacturers to work producing the tools needed to fight the coronavirus. In the absence of leadership by the Trump administration, manufacturers would have to take it upon themselves to fill the void, I wrote. In the days since, I’ve been genuinely awestruck by the reports of companies taking up the call. But the truth is, the void is too big for industry to fill on its own.

 

President Trump has been reluctant to use the 1950s-era Defense Production Act that gives the government the power to press U.S. industry into service on matters of national need, preferring to orchestrate contributions on a volunteer basis. He did invoke it on Tuesday with regard to production of testing kits and masks, but that fails to address a crucial shortage in ventilators. 

 

It’s great that companies are willing to help on this front without being explicitly ordered to do so, but you still need some sort of a plan. Timing is one issue, with Cuomo arguing a more forceful implementation of the Defense Production Act that gave manufacturers the startup capital needed to repurpose factories could help speed things along. Another is that there are many smaller companies who may not have the capacity to make entire ventilators like Ford can, but could make parts or offer services, if only someone would give them some direction and organize them into workable partnerships. Perhaps the biggest is the question of distribution, as my colleague Joe Nocera has written: Who decides where the ventilators go once they are manufactured? 

 

Apart from the Ford partnership, GE has doubled its capacity of ventilator production since the start of the coronavirus crisis and plans to double it again in the second quarter. That is incredible and commendable. But who gets them? New York, which has the most cases in the U.S.? GE’s home state of Massachusetts? One of the many other countries around the world where GE does business? The government that’s willing to pay the most for them? I’m not trying to cast doubts on GE’s good intentions here, but these are impossible decisions for any company to make on its own. The federal government is sitting on a stockpile of 20,000 ventilators but has been reluctant to deploy all of those to New York, Cuomo said, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency offering a mere 400. “What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?” he said. “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.” 

 

One argument made by the New York Times as to why Trump has been reluctant to apply the Defense Production Act more forcefully is because he doesn’t want to be blamed for how slowly shortages of protective gear and ventilators are addressed. Worded a different way, if true, he is shifting responsibility for that to CEOs who are simply trying to help their country in any way they can, and that is unsustainable. 

 

Source

 

 

Edited by aum
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...