No one seemed to know what this pronouncement meant.
What is clear, though, is that companies were already racing to try to determine how -- or if -- they could contribute. And that they recognize there will be no easy switch-over to manufacture something like a ventilator, which pumps oxygen into a Covid-19 patient’s lungs and removes carbon dioxide through a hose.
“You’re not going to take a car-assembly line and start making ventilators on it,” said
But an industry with engineering might and a deep field of parts suppliers could help alleviate the stark shortage of medical devices across America. Automakers are working to see if they can orchestrate provisional manufacturing of ventilators in as soon as two weeks.
“It’s more or less getting an army together to get all the different parts and then you can set-up a makeshift assembly line,” Bailo said.
Automakers have 3D printers and the technical expertise to use them to make components. They have “clean rooms” in some plants that could be elevated to meet Food and Drug Administration standards and Tyvek suits used in paint shops that could be re-purposed, said a person familiar with the Detroit automakers’ preparations to help with ventilator production who asked not to be identified revealing internal deliberations.
Swat teams have been assembled to tackle the question of how to proceed, Bailo said, adding that “the key will be making sure they have the right sanitary conditions.”
That’s one hurdle. “Ventilator manufacturing is a complex process that relies on a skilled and specialized workforce, an interconnected global supply chain and a rigorous regulatory regime to ensure patient safety,” said John Jordan, a spokesman for
Trump could, with the Defense Production Act, order the U.S. private sector to marshal its resources to attack the scarcity and provide financing via government contracts. For now, Trump said at a Sunday press conference, companies are responding without having to be forced.
“The beauty is, they are calling us,” he said, citing GM and
Groups representing hospitals and medical professionals issued pleas for the act to be employed in full force.
“There are dwindling supplies,” the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association said in a March 21 letter to the president. “As Covid-‐19 continues to spread throughout the country, these supplies are urgently needed to care for our patients and communities.”
In Canada, the government has said it will help the country’s auto sector shift gears to medical supplies. “Our health care professionals really need support, so our government will help these companies shift production,” Prime Minister
Using permanently shuttered North American capacity -- such as GM’s facilities in Oshawa, Ontario -- makes the most sense because there would be no cost incurred switching the production lines back when the crisis is over, said
“The skill base between an assembly plant and an auto parts plant is negligible,” Dias said. “There’s a lot of empty plants. Let’s use them.”
Dias said he hoped to raise the ventialor issue Monday with representatives of Ford, GM and Chrysler. “We need to have a discussion right now,” he said. “All we need is some direction.”
The U.S. automakers have signaled that they are committed to an emergency effort. “It’s all hands on deck in many areas,” Bailo said. And there are some sweet spots on the line of what car production involves. “If you think about the hoses, there are hoses all over a car, supplied by various manufacturers, or even vacuum cleaner companies. They could start making the ventilator hoses.”
Medtronic, which has said it’s doubling its output capacity, has been in contact with electric-car maker
That seems clearly not to be the case. Michigan Governor
On Sunday, Musk tweeted ventilators “
(Updates with GM and Ventec in fourth paragraph.)
--With assistance from
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Anne Reifenberg, Kevin Miller
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