General Motors will deliver 20,000 facemasks to frontline healthcare workers early next week as part of its ongoing efforts to support the fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
The automaker began making facemasks at its Warren Transmission Operations plant in Michigan last Friday, with a group of GM engineers and technicians lending their expertise to develop and manufacture the masks. GM says it will have 20,000 facemasks delivered by April 8th and once its newly established production line is running at full capacity and will have the capability to make up to 50,000 masks a day and 1.5 million masks per month. It is currently “developing a plan for distributing the masks,” across the country to where they are needed most.
GM and the UAW are still seeking roughly two dozen paid volunteers from their Detroit-area manufacturing plants to help produce the masks at the Warren facility. The automaker assures would-be volunteers it has implemented strict safety measures to protect these team members including mandatory physical distancing, enhanced on-site cleaning and pre-entry health screening.
“Our team began looking at ways we could quickly utilize our talents and resources to help in the shared fight against COVID-19,” said Peter Thom, GM’s vice president for Global Manufacturing Engineering. “Working around the clock, our team rallied with incredible passion and focus to come up with a plan to produce masks that will help protect the women and men on the front lines of this crisis.”
GM managed to ramp up its mask-making project at an impressive pace. The core team working on the mask project only assembled for the first time on March 20 and six days, 23 hours and 30 minutes later they were producing masks and putting them through quality assurance tests. The team consists of more than 30 GM engineers, designers, buyers and manufacturing personnel, who helped source materials and equipment and planned the production process.
“The first people we called were those who work with fabric vehicle components,” explained Karsten Garbe, GM’s plant director for, Global Pre-Production Operations. “In a few days, the company’s seat belt and interior trim experts became experts in manufacturing face masks.”
The team also leveraged GM’s existing supply chain to get the materials they needed to produce the masks, including metal nose pieces, elastic straps and non-woven fabric filter material. The automaker reached out to JR Automation in Holland, Michigan and Esys Automation in Auburn Hills to design and build it custom machinery required to manufacture the masks, as well.
GM is also rapidly scaling production of Ventec ventilators at its components plant in Kokomo, Indiana. The automaker expects to deliver its first ventilators to hospitals by mid-April.