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Ford Motor Company's Car Production Shifted To Make Ventilators


Ventilators are like gold right now. The breathing devices can give seriously ill COVID-19 patients more time for their bodies to try and fight the infection. Hospitals need them, and there aren't enough, which is spurring corporate ingenuity. Carmaker Ford is partnering with GE Healthcare to redirect some of its workforce to make ventilators. Adrian Price is Ford's director of global core engineering for vehicle manufacturing, and he joins me now to talk about this project. Thanks so much for being here.

ADRIAN PRICE: Good morning, Rachel. I'm pleased to be here with you this morning.

MARTIN: So this is a big change. I mean, going from manufacturing cars to ventilators is big. You've got other facilities that are working on respirators and medical gowns as well. How do you, as an automaker, take the systems you have in place and retool them?

PRICE: Well, I think the good thing about working for Ford Motor Company is that we have an amazing range of very talented individuals. So, you know, when a challenge like this comes up, we're able to quickly pull on resources from all over the company globally to assist us and do what it takes to make this work.

MARTIN: Ventilators are very complex machines. And some doctors say that the complexity is important because it makes them more versatile. You can use them for a variety of different patients who are at different stages of the illness. But I understand the ventilators that Ford is going to be making are a simple model, right? What are the trade-offs?

PRICE: Yeah, so as we looked to get into the ventilator business, we went through a number of criteria to make sure that we had, first of all, a ventilator that was going to be fit for purpose for all of the COVID-19 patients no matter what shape or size or how ill or sick they were. Secondly, we looked at a unit that could be field deployable because we realized that quickly our medical health service was going to be overrun in terms of beds and availability of space, so we wanted a unit that was simple and portable and thirdly, something that we could scale very quickly because we recognized that the most important thing in this war was to be able to get the units out into the field as quickly as possible. And that's why we chose the model AE device that we're going to be ramping up in production starting on Monday.

MARTIN: So each machine may not be as convertible as the complex machines, but you're just going for scale. You just need to get a lot of these things out quickly.

PRICE: Yeah, and I liken it to, you know, if you're sitting in your driveway at home and you need to get to the hospital and there's your brand-new Ford Focus and you can jump in it and drive to the hospital, are you going to do that? Or are you going to wait for your wife to come home driving her Lincoln Aviator with a beautiful touch screen and leather, heated seats? And I know which I would do.

MARTIN: Nice product placement, by the way. So you're helping ramp up production at this technology company in Florida. But we've known for a while that mid-April, right now, would be the peak of the virus. And the specific Ford plant that you're going to reopen to make ventilators in Michigan isn't open yet, right?

PRICE: No. Actually, our team has been working round the clock to retool that facility, first of all, to make it safe for our employees in this environment and then, secondly, to get all the station facilities in place, the medical oxygen supplies that we need. In fact, our team of facilities engineers who are used to retooling facilities to make, you know, all new cars and trucks are out there right now building that facility. And as an example, putting together an oxygen supply tank farm, they started from the ground up and had the thing finished and complete in 10 hours.

MARTIN: Understood. Is this on track to open Monday?

PRICE: Yes, absolutely, yeah. We'll have all of our UAW employees coming into the plant.

MARTIN: What will be the capacity? How many ventilators can you make over what period of time?

PRICE: So our target is to get to 50,000 ventilators deployed in the field within the first hundred days of production, which takes us to July the 4.

MARTIN: And where do those go? Do you know?

PRICE: Those will go - we're working with our partners at GE to get those directly into the hands of the right medical personnel on the front line.

MARTIN: And you mentioned the safety of your own workers. Obviously, that is paramount. You talked about oxygen tanks. What else is being done to protect the people who are going to be making these ventilators?

PRICE: So every employee that comes into the Phillip facility, first of all, starts their day with a self-screening. And then as they arrive at our facility, they're individually checked into the plant. They go through a temperature screening process. And we're also deploying some new technology to help with the physical separation of employees.

And every workstation is separately screened and shielded and is more than two meters apart. And even in their break areas, they're totally separated. And they'll all be wearing face masks and face shields to make sure that they protect both themselves, the equipment that they're working with and their fellow employees.

MARTIN: And it sounds like you will make them at least until the beginning of July. And then we'll see, I guess.

PRICE: Yeah, depending on the need, you know, we'll do whatever it takes to get as many out into the field to support the front-line defenders because that's really what this is about.

MARTIN: Ford executive Adrian Price, we appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

PRICE: No, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.