Around the world, manufacturing companies from across many industries have mobilized their production resources to produce medical devices that are in urgent demand. In the automotive sector, we’ve noticed a trend amongst companies to leverage their additive manufacturing resources to support the production of personal protective equipment (PPE) as well as parts for ventilators and respirators. In the following article, we’ll look at what some major automotive players are doing to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
Jaguar Land Rover
UK-based automotive company Jaguar Land Rover announced this week that it has developed a 3D printed protective visor and has commenced production at its facilities. The company will be utilizing its prototyping build operations to manufacture the protective visors, which will ultimately be deployed to frontline medical staff working for the National Health Service (NHS).
The protective visor design is reportedly the only reusable, NHS-approved device of its kind and was developed in collaboration with a team of NHS healthcare professionals at the Advanced Product Creation Centre in Gaydon, England. The UK health service, like healthcare systems around the globe, is facing an acute shortage of PPE, which is putting critical frontline workers at higher risk of infection.
Jaguar Land Rover is working with partners, including Pro2Pro to produce about 5,000 visors a week for NHS trusts across the UK. The visor has already undergone trials at the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust, and production officially started on March 31, 2020 at Jaguar Land Rover’s facility in Warwickshire. The automotive company also plans to make the CAD files for the visor open source so that other manufacturers can contribute to production.
A number of Volkswagen Group brands have also shifted their production and prototyping resources to help develop and produce PPE and other medical devices. The automotive group is working in collaboration with Airbus and the Mobility goes Additive network to produce 3D printed face shields to be given to medical institutions in Spain. The face shield were designed by Airbus and will be flown from Germany to Madrid by the aerospace company. Production for the face shields is being carried out at Volkswagen’s 3D printing centers in Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt, as well as at Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Porsche and MAN Truck & Bus facilities, among others.
Other members of the Volkswagen Group are leveraging their additive solutions to produce other medical supplies. For instance, Czech brand ŠKODA is working in cooperation with the Technical University in Prague to 3D print reusable respirators using its in-house HP Multi Jet Fusion technology. Lamborghini, for its part, is converting divisions of its sports car production plant in Sant’Agata Bolognese to produce surgical masks and protective plexiglass shields. SEAT is also working on a collaborative project to produce a mechanical ventilator to be assembled in Martorell, Spain and is developing face masks, which are pending approval. Volkswagen South Africa is reportedly also 3D printing masks and face shields which are awaiting approval.
To date, Volkswagen Group has already donated several hundred thousand medical face masks to Germany’s health system, and the company will also be donating other medical supplies, including masks and protective clothing worth roughly 40 million euros.
The Ford Motor Company is another automotive company undertaking a multifaceted approach to COVID-19 support. The company is leveraging its in-house 3D printing capacity to produce components for PPE, including over 100,000 face shields per week. Beyond 3D printing, the company has also partnered with 3M and GE Healthcare to help scale up production capabilities for medical equipment and necessary supplies using its expansive manufacturing capacity. Notably, Ford is working with GE Healthcare to produce 50,000 simplified ventilators within the next 100 days.
In the production of PPE parts, Ford will rely on additive manufacturing technologies at its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan. The first face shields were tested last week at Detroit Mercy, Henry Ford Health Systems and Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace hospitals. Ford subsidiary Troy Design and Manufacturing will assist in the production of the face shields, allowing for weekly production rates of about 100,000 units.
On March 27, 2020, German automotive brand Mercedes Benz (a division of Daimler AG) announced it would aid in the production of 3D printed medical devices. The company says its extensive AM capacity, which is used to print up to 150,000 plastic and metal components every year, can support production where needed. Available technologies include FDM, SLA, SLS and even SLM.
“With our highly competent team and years of experience in 3D printing technology, we are ready to make our contribution to the production of medical devices,” said Jörg Burzer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz AG, Production and Supply Chain. “To this end, we are also in contact with the state government of Baden-Württemberg. Our expertise and specialist knowledge is available for production; now it is up to the medical technology sector to contact us. Our 3D printers are definitely available.”
It is not clear whether Mercedes Benz is currently producing parts, but it has offered up its resources to healthcare providers.
Though General Motors has not revealed if it is working with additive manufacturing in its efforts to support COVID-19 relief, we’d like to highlight a couple of projects it is working on. For one, the automotive company has started production of Level 1 surgical masks and expects to deliver the first 20,000 masks to frontline workers as soon as next week. The masks are being produced at the ISO Class 8-equivalent cleanroom at GM’s manufacturing plant in Warren, Michigan.
GM also announced a partnership with Ventec Life Systems to support the production of VOCSN critical care ventilators at its Kokomo, Indiana facility. The FDA-approved ventilators are expected to be ready to ship later this month. Eventually, the companies say they will have the capacity to produce at least 10,000 critical care ventilators per month.
Other automotive companies have paused or shut down production at their plants for the safety of workers.