Making coronavirus ventilators: A post-pandemic production blueprint

Coronavirus is giving UAW workers a glimpse of the new normal

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When General Motors employees return to making automobiles, their workplaces will be “vastly different” from the ones they left just three weeks ago.

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The Big 3 automakers, Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler, halted vehicle production amid the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, GM and Ford have partnered with companies that make ventilators and repurposed existing auto factories to ramp up production of the life-saving devices.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
GMGENERAL MOTORS COMPANY45.54-0.92-1.98%
FFORD MOTOR COMPANY9.12-0.32-3.39%
FCAUFIAT CHRYSLER AUTOMOBILES N.V.15.69+0.02+0.15%

“We’re installing equipment right now, and our hope is to start moving parts and start building ventilators this weekend,” Jim Glynn, GM’s head of global workplace safety, told FOX Business.

United Auto Workers’ members who offered to help are getting a glimpse of what the new normal will be at automotive and other manufacturing facilities when work eventually resumes.

They fill out a health questionnaire, their temperature is taken, they clean their workstations regularly, they wear masks and there are markers to delineate proper social distancing.

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“Frankly, that’s going to be our standard across our whole system,” Glynn explained. “As the pandemic kind of eases up and we bring people back to work, every facility we have will be at this protocol level.”

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Before the Big 3 decided to close their factories, the United Auto Workers pushed back on the companies, arguing members weren’t safe making cars amid the coronavirus outbreak. When workers return, Glynn hopes these changes will put them at ease.

“Two weeks ago, we didn’t understand how this virus propagates and how it can infect people, and so there was a lot of unrest,” he said.

The company plans to copy what it’s learned while restarting factories in Asia, which were forced to close long before the virus was rapidly spreading in the United States and are now back open. GM is also working with its Big 3 rivals, Ford and FCA, to share safety protocols in what Glynn calls “a team effort.”

It remains unclear when North American factories will reopen, but the automakers will have a health and safety blueprint when they do.

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For now, GM is focusing on face mask production at its Warren, Michigan, facility and ventilator production in Kokomo, Indiana. In partnership with Ventec Life Systems, GM aims to produce 10,000 of the machines per month once it reaches scale.

“The people that have raised their hands to do this, they are fired up,” Glynn said. “From a phone call to reality in literally weeks is pretty amazing.”

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