Ford and GE Healthcare have licensed a ventilator design from Airon Corp and plan to produce up to 50,000 of them at a Michigan facility by July to provide a critical medical device for treating people with COVID-19.
Ford will initially send a team of engineers to increase production at the Airon plant in Florida, where only three of its Airon Model A fans are made per day. Ford will also begin preparing its own Rawsonville component plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, for large-scale production of the Airon Model AE ventilator, which is expected to begin on April 20. Ford announced that it will pay 500 United Auto Workers who volunteered to work in the factory. Ford stopped producing its vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ford said Monday that it expects to produce 1,500 Airon fans by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May, and 50,000 by July. The automaker also said it will eventually have the capacity to build 30,000 a month.
Monday's announcement highlights recent efforts by automakers and medical device manufacturers to alleviate the shortage of ventilators, a medical device used to treat COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus. COVID-19 attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment, ventilators rely on people to breathe and fight the disease. According to the NYT, there are approximately 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply.
Last week GM announced that it would produce Ventec Life Systems fans at its engine plant in Kokomo, Indiana with approximately 1,000 employees. GM said production would begin in the next seven to 14 days. Deliveries of FDA-approved ventilators are scheduled to begin in April. Ventec is also attempting to ramp up production at its Bothell, Washington facility.
The collaboration between Ford and GE Healthcare also draws attention to Airon, a small, privately held company that specializes in high-tech pneumatic life support products. The company's Airon Model A-E ventilator, which GE Healthcare Ford introduced, works with air pressure without the need for electricity, according to the companies. Airon has been manufacturing this ventilator since 2004.
The Airon design was chosen for its simplicity, which should allow the Ford to scale production quickly. According to Tom Westrick, vice president and chief quality officer at GE Healthcare, the FDA-approved design is expected to meet the needs of most COVID-19 patients with respiratory failure or breathing difficulties. Westrick said they consulted doctors to confirm that the Airon ventilator was well suited to meet the urgent needs during the COVID-19 crisis.
As part of the partnership, Ford will provide its manufacturing resources and GE Healthcare will license Airon's ventilator design and bring its clinical expertise to bear.
Ford and GE Healthcare are also working to scale the production of a simplified ventilator design from GE Healthcare.