Automakers asked to save the day

Trump tweet challenges an industry pivot to ventilator production

Ford and others are being asked to go from building trucks and cars to ventilators.

President Donald Trump gave automakers the “go ahead” by tweet on Sunday to begin making ventilators in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Health experts predict hospitals in some areas will need far more machines than are on hand now. How might that work, exactly?

As the chief executive officer for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told Bloomberg, it wouldn’t be effortless and instantaneous.

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“You’re not going to take a car-assembly line and start making ventilators on it,” Carla Bailo said. “It won’t make sense.”

Still, advances in automotive manufacturing in recent years could give the industry some quick ways to pivot.

Many automotive assembly centers are now armed with 3D printers, which can be programmed to make healthcare parts as easily as car parts. Automakers in the South have learned a great deal from Auburn University, which has heavily emphasized 3D printing expertise at its Center for Polymers and Advanced Composites.

Another advantage of the modern auto assembly plant, a long stride from the dirty, oily factories of the past, is their clean room capability. Ventilators would need to be assembled in rooms with Food and Drug Administration-compliant cleanliness, which wouldn’t necessarily be a far reach for parts of the factory where painting and other final-step processes take place.

“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.

Without doubt, automakers have the workforce and available manufacturing space.

Production halts have been announced in every Southern state with OEMs. Ford Motor Co., which was specifically called out in President Trump’s tweet, has two plants in Kentucky that have been idled to allow for cleaning and safety precautions. Together, Kentucky Truck and Louisville Assembly represent 14,300 jobs.



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