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Ford partners with 3M, GE Healthcare to make respirators, ventilators to fight coronavirus

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press

Ford Motor Company announced Tuesday that it will join the effort to "speed production" of respirators to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker said in a statement that it's collaborating with 3M to manufacture "Powered Air-Purifying Respirators." The two are working on a "new design leveraging parts from both companies," according to Ford.

It is possible Ford will produce the new respirator in a Ford facility in Michigan. 

Discussions have been intense over the last four days, officials said in a conference call. Ford engineers are playing a key role in the effort and using parts that are currently used in the bestselling F-150 pickup, the company said in a call.

Other automakers, including General Motors and Tesla, have also taken steps to help produce medical equipment, including ventilators. Tesla CEO Elon Musk also procured more than 1,200 ventilators from China to distribute for free to U.S. hospitals.

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Additionally, Ford said in the release it is trying to expand GE Healthcare's production of their current ventilator, which is used to help patients who have difficulty breathing.

No timelines are confirmed, though the companies are working as quickly as possible.

Hourly workers represented by the United Auto Workers union will play a key role, too. Ford and its workers will make more than 100,000 plastic face shields weekly at a Ford plant, the automaker said. The company will also use its 3D printing machinery to make disposable respirators for health care workers.

"By coming together across multiple industries, we can make a real difference for people in need and for those on the front lines of this crisis," said Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman, in a statement. "At Ford, we feel a deep obligation to step up and contribute in times of need, just as we always have through the 117-year history of our company."

The release said: "Ford and 3M have been looking for off-the-shelf parts like fans from the Ford F-150’s cooled seats for airflow, 3M HEPA air filters to filter airborne contaminants such as droplets that carry virus particles and portable tool battery packs to power these respirators for up to eight hours."

In a "Today" show appearance on Tuesday, Bill Ford explained the company plan in detail: "We actually have four big efforts going. One is we're working with GE on ventilators to dramatically increase the capability they have to deliver these in numbers. We're also working with 3M for air purifying respirators. We're going to help them dramatically increase the production of those. And then in-house we're also doing face shields, trying to produce hundreds of thousands of those a week and N95 masks. We're 3D printing them."

The Ford family has a history of responding to national efforts in times of crisis.

In a tweet, Ford's North America Product Communications manager Mike Levine showed sketches off the respirator.

In another tweet, he showed the face shield Ford designers created.

In a third tweet, Levine showed a go-fast hood prototype.

Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter @phoebesaid.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ford, 3M, GE Healthcare partner to make coronavirus medical equipment