General Motors is encouraging and empowering its suppliers to assist in production of medical face masks for frontline workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a note to the suppliers on Saturday, Shilpan Amin, GM's vice president of global purchasing and supply chain, said it is making the automaker's step-by-step manufacturing plans for the personal protective equipment available to any company willing to join in the cause.
"Our ultimate goal is to get more masks to the people who desperately need them," he said in part of the message obtained by CNBC. "We also recognized it would be counterproductive if GM – or any other manufacturer – competed for supplies with existing medical-mask companies. By making available GM's production processes to our global supply base, we hope to facilitate other companies' efforts to bring more materials, more equipment and ultimately more facemasks to the community."
GM, according to a spokesman, will provided suppliers detailed specs on materials, equipment, and processes – essentially, what suppliers would need to know to ramp up their own production lines. He said the message was sent to 600 suppliers.
GM quickly set up and began testing production of Level 1 face masks last week at one of its shuttered parts plants in suburban Detroit. About two dozen paid volunteer United Auto Workers employees are expected to begin producing the masks for distribution on Monday.
GM expects to have 20,000 masks ready for delivery by Wednesday. Once the line is running at full speed, it will be able to produce up to 50,000 masks every day – or up to 1.5 million masks a month, according to GM.
GM says it took the team working on production of the masks, which was internally codenamed "Project M," slightly less than a week to turn the idea of production into a reality. More than 30 engineers, designers, buyers and members of the manufacturing team were asked to help with product development, sourcing materials and equipment, and planning the production process, according to GM.
"The first people we called were those who work with fabric vehicle components," Karsten Garbe, GM plant director of global pre-production operations, said in a release last week. "In a few days, the company's seat belt and interior trim experts became experts in manufacturing face masks."
The mask production is one of the efforts by automakers to assist in the production of personal protection equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic. GM also has partnered with Washington-based Ventec Life Systems to build critical-care ventilators at one of its components plants in Indiana.