AM in the time of COVID-19Automotive

Ford using in-house 3D printing to make parts for personal protective equipment

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The Ford Motor Company today announced its strategy to support the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the plan, it is partnering with 3M and GE Healthcare to help scale up production capabilities for medical equipment and necessary supplies using its expansive manufacturing capacity. The automotive leader is also leveraging its in-house 3D printing capability to produce components for personal protective equipment, and plans to assemble over 100,000 face shields per week.

“This is such a critical time for America and the world,” commented Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman. “It is a time for action and cooperation. 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. 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.”

Ford COVID-19
AM technician Dave Jacek oversees production of 3D printed disposable respirator mask prototypes at Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center (Photo: Ford)

Protective gear production

Ford’s 3D printing effort will be focused on manufacturing components and subassemblies for personal protective equipment, which will be deployed to medical staff at the front lines of treating COVID-19 patients. Ford says it will rely on additive manufacturing technologies at its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan for the production.

Ford’s U.S.-based design team is also reportedly in the process of testing transparent full-face shields for medical workers, which can be paired with N95 respirators to more effectively prevent exposure to the novel coronavirus. The first 1,000 face shields are being tested this 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.

Ventilators and respirators

In addition to announcing the use of in-house 3D printing for certain protective equipment components, Ford is partnering with 3M to increase the manufacturing capacity for its powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR) designs. As part of this effort, Ford and 3M have been adapting off-the-shelf parts, including fans from Ford’s F-150 cooled seats and 3M HEPA air filters, to improve airflow and filter airborne droplets, respectively. Ford is also investigating how it could produce these new PAPR designs at one of its Michigan manufacturing facilities to boost production.

With GE Healthcare, Ford is helping to expand the production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare’s ventilator design to meet a growing demand in hospitals. The adapted ventilators could be manufactured at Ford’s manufacturing premises as well as a GE manufacturing site.

Ford COVID-19
Jacek wears a prototype of a 3D printed medical face shield (Photo: Ford)

“We are encouraged by how quickly companies from across industries have mobilized to address the growing challenge we collectively face from COVID-19,” commented GE Healthcare President & CEO Kieran Murphy. “We are proud to bring our clinical and technical expertise to this collaboration with Ford, working together to serve unprecedented demand for this life-saving technology and urgently support customers as they meet patient needs.”

Ford is also participating in a number of other efforts to support the fight against COVID-19, including securing surgical masks and respirators for hospitals. You can find more information about how 3D printing companies are helping in the fight against COVID-19 in our dedicated forum.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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