Detroit’s GM Expands Manufacturing to Face Shields, Gowns, Aerosol Boxes

Detroit’s General Motors Co. is expanding its production of personal protective equipment to include latex-free face shields, protective gowns, and aerosol boxes. All of the supplies are being donated, and the announcement comes less than a week after GM began shipping ventilators.
GM employee making aerosol boxes
GM has started manufacturing face shields, gowns, and aerosol boxes (pictured) in its ongoing fight against COVID-19. // Photo courtesy of General Motors Co.

Detroit’s General Motors Co. is expanding its production of personal protective equipment to include latex-free face shields, protective gowns, and aerosol boxes. All of the supplies are being donated, and the announcement comes less than a week after GM began shipping ventilators.

The projects have been led by employee volunteers. Initially, the projects were grassroots efforts with employees delivering handmade samples to hospitals for feedback and tweaking accordingly, leading to final designs.

With the help of suppliers, GM is applying its scale and manufacturing capabilities to amplify these efforts, mass producing up to 50,000 face shields per week and ramping up production of protective gowns and aerosol boxes.

“It’s amazing how much our employees have accomplished in such a short time,” says Mark Reuss, president of GM. “People from all corners of the company have really stepped up to help and to lend their talents, time, and energy to battle coronavirus.”

The automaker is coordinating with the state’s personal protective prioritization team to identify which hospitals in the state need face shields most urgently. GM employees are delivering protective gowns to hospitals in the Henry Ford Health System and aerosol boxes to other area health care facilities.

Face Shields
GM’s additive manufacturing and design fabrication operations teams first discussed making protective face shields on Monday, March 23. By 4 p.m. on Friday, March 27, the teams had reached consensus on a design and started manufacturing their first shields that evening.

Components of the first face shields were 3-D printed at GM locations – three onsite at the Global Technical Center in Warren, one at the Milford Proving Ground, and one at the North Hollywood Advanced Design Center in California.

Depending on the location and 3-D printing technology used, the shield visors were printed from three different types of material, including:

  • Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate for FDM printers
  • DuraForm PA Polyamide Nylon Plastic for SLS printers
  • Accura Xtreme Gray for SLA printers

They were cut from clear .7-millimeter polyester sheets on an Eastman Machine Co. M9000 static table cutting system that is normally used to cut trim pieces for concept vehicles.

“3-D printing allowed us to react quickly to the need for face shields and get initial units to people on the front line almost immediately,” says Steve Hart, director of design fabrication operations. “3-D printing did exactly what it’s intended to do – it let us get a proof of concept and initial production off the ground and make incremental improvements based on recipient feedback prior to mass production.”

For full production, GM is collaborating with suppliers, including Summit Polymers of Kalamazoo, which donated a P20 steel injection mold that will enable GM to increase production from about 4,000 to 25,000 units per week. GM is purchasing a second injection mold to help increase production to 50,000 units per week.

Summit plans to donate the first 100,000 face shield components it makes to GM.

“We worked with a local shop, S&K Tool and Die, to rapidly design and develop the mold to make the visors that hold the shields in place,” says Jody Flinton, general manager of Summit Polymers Plant 18. “Summit is proud to support GM in the effort to help save lives in our community and help keep our health care heroes safe.”

The shields are made from polyethylene terephthalate by Argent International in Plymouth. Argent is also making the 12-inch elastic bands that hold the shields in place. The company will donate the first 2,500 shields to GM.

Protective Gowns
GM’s fabrication organization includes metal, paint, trim, wood, mold, and plaster teams and creates one-of-a-kind parts and vehicles such as show cars. Now, these UAW workers are assembling protective gowns and aerosol boxes at the Warren facility.

“Our team members are experts at solving problems on the fly and creating things from scratch,” says Hart. “The dedication, abilities, and spirit of collaboration from our skilled tradespeople has been humbling. They are working longer hours than ever on a voluntary basis to fulfill urgent requests from doctors, nurses, and other professionals on the front lines.”

Skilled tradespeople from the color and trim departments sewed sample protective gowns that were distributed to local hospitals for evaluation. The first prototypes were made from old car covers to perfect the pattern.

The final gowns approved for use have been sewn from Tyvek supplied by Henry Ford Health System. They are lightweight, breathable, and protective. Complete gowns are delivered to Henry Ford by GM employees.

Aerosol Boxes
Local hospitals also need aerosol boxes, see-through containers that protect medical personnel while they are intubating patients. GM’s design fabrication team came up with an initial concept and demoed it with local intensive care personnel. The final version is now being distributed to local hospitals.

GM’s aerosol boxes are about 20 inches high, 20 inches wide, and 16 inches deep, with arm holes on the side to help protect doctors while treating patients. They are hand formed on a heat bar from polyethylene terephthalate glycol-modified sheets in quantities of 40-46 per day.

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