The first Ford Motor Co.-built powered air-purifying respirators, developed in close collaboration with 3M, are on their way to help protect health care workers fighting COVID-19.
Since late March, Ford has been working with 3M to create PAPRs, using design guidance from 3M and off-the-shelf parts like vehicle ventilator fans and power tool batteries. In a separate effort, 500,000 reusable medical gowns distributed by Ford soon will be on their way to the state of New Jersey.
“Ford could not stand by while health care workers in this country placed their lives on the line to help others without even having proper protection,” says Jim Baumbick, vice president of Ford Enterprise Product Line Management. “That’s why we kicked off an all-out sprint to protect those who are so selflessly helping patients afflicted with this terrible virus.”
Bernard Cicut, vice president of the 3M Personal Safety Division, says, “We are dedicated to helping support and protect the health care workers fighting COVID-19. We thank Ford for partnering with us to quickly develop and deliver more of these critical health care supplies to the heroes working on the frontlines of this unprecedented health crisis.”
3M is a leading provider of personal protective equipment, including powered air-purifying respirators. Demand for 3M PAPRs is exceeding supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through partnerships with companies like Ford and others, 3M plans to increase capacity of its own PAPRs 10-fold within the next several months.
The automaker and 3M worked closely with Ford’s automotive supply chain to progress the new PAPR from idea to product in fewer than 40 days.
Ford’s product development team moved quickly to design the new PAPR, combining vehicle air conditioning expertise with 3M’s knowledge of medical devices. Hand-drawn concepts of the Ford PAPR were created one day after starting the project. Ford engineers also leveraged vehicle seat trim expertise to design the PAPR hood.
In parallel, Ford’s advanced manufacturing team rapidly prototyped the PAPR using 3-D printing, while the Ford purchasing team worked with suppliers to procure and produce components and the Ford manufacturing team designed the production process. Assembly lines and production of PAPRs started within three weeks of the initial request.
The PAPR includes a hood and face shield to cover health care professionals’ heads and shoulders, while a high-efficiency (HEPA) filter system provides a supply of filtered air for as long as eight hours. The air blower system – similar to the fan in the Ford F-150’s ventilated seats – is powered by a rechargeable, portable battery, helping keep the respirator in constant use by first-line defenders.
Approximately 90 paid UAW volunteers have assembled more than 10,000 PAPRs at Ford’s Vreeland facility near Flat Rock, with the ability to make 100,000 or more.
“I’m proud of all of the vehicles I’ve help build over the years, but this is something totally different,” says Michelle Strong, a 43-year Ford veteran who works on the PAPRs. “I’m up for this experience to help the world – to help the situation we’ve got. A lot of friends ask me, ‘Are you really going to do this?’ and I say, ‘Yes. It’s the right thing to do.’”
The 3M and Ford development team worked closely with the U.S. CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory. NIOSH provided timely guidance to encourage the development of PAPRs to help respond to the COVID-19 emergency. Ford has achieved temporary NIOSH approval under its limited-use protocol to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
More than 10 companies from across Ford’s automotive supply chain are providing new and off-the-shelf parts for use in the PAPRs. Components include hood tops for the wearer’s head and shoulders, filters and fans for supplying filtered air, power electronics, switches, foam seals, and more.
“We are very grateful to Ford and 3M for this shipment of air-purifying respirators,” says Steve Schaefer, senior vice president of support services at the Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, the first facility to receive a PAPR shipment from Ford. “This important equipment will help ensure the safety of our patients, doctors, nurses, and other members of the Virginia Mason care teams during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
3M will sell and distribute the newly designed Ford Limited-Use Public Health Emergency PAPR through 3M-authorized distributors to maximize speed and efficiency in deploying these technologies to heath care workers. Ford-built PAPRs also can be ordered directly from Ford.
3M will provide technical support for health care workers using the new PAPRs. Its authorized distributors moved exceptionally fast to make these products available for order within days.
3M and Ford will donate any profits they earn from the sale of the PAPR to COVID-19 related nonprofit organizations.
In addition to the work Ford is doing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, its suppliers now are producing 200,000 gowns a week, and more than 400,000 gowns have been shipped by Ford to medical workers around the country.
Washable gown deliveries are rapidly growing as hospitals and medical services seek reusable protection for health care workers. The gowns have been self-tested to federal standards and are washable up to 50 times.
The state of New Jersey has placed an order for 500,000 reusable gowns.
Inspired by the effort in 1970 to help NASA’s disaster-stricken Apollo 13 astronauts, Ford’s Project Apollo team has undertaken a variety of efforts in the fight against COVID-19. The company is making and supplying critically needed PPE and health care equipment, including more than 12 million face shields, ventilators in collaboration with GE Healthcare, medical masks for its workforce, and washable gowns for hospital and medical workers.
In Related News: Ford recently outlined its plan to return to work, once various state stay-at-home orders are lifted. Part of that plan was the digital publishing of the automaker’s Return to Work Manufacturing Playbook, which serves as a guide for the global health and safety protocols put into place to protect Ford’s workforce, dealers, customers, and suppliers. It is expected to change over time as expert recommendations, regulatory guidance, and industry practices evolve. The playbook, which should not be considered legal or policy advice nor a list of best practices for every business, can be found here.