Ford Motor will begin producing new powered air-purifying respirators this week to assist in protecting health-care workers from Covid-19.
The automaker said Monday that production of the respirators, which were developed by Ford in collaboration with 3M, will begin Tuesday at one of the automaker's plants in suburban Detroit. The work will be done by about 90 paid volunteers from the United Auto Workers union.
The facility, Ford said, will have the ability to make 100,000 or more respirators. Company officials declined to provide a timeline for such production.
The newly designed respirators include a hood and face shield to cover head and shoulders, while a high-efficiency filter system provides a supply of filtered air for up to eight hours. The air blower system, Ford says, is similar to the fan found in a Ford F-150 pickup's ventilated seats. It is powered by a rechargeable, portable battery, helping keep the respirator in constant use by first-line defenders.
Ford said it expects to receive temporary, limited National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health approval for the respirators by the end of April. Pending approval, 3M will distribute the respirators through its U.S. network.
Ford declined to disclose pricing for the units.
The respirator production is in addition to the company's other efforts to assist health-care workers, first responders and patients fighting the coronavirus. The company also is producing face shields, more than 3 million thus far, and reusable gowns and plans to produce ventilators with GE Healthcare.
Since late March, Ford manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain experts also have been embedded at 3M manufacturing facilities to help increase production of urgently needed products.
The company said Monday that it is now producing face masks for internal use globally and pursuing certification for medical use at another plant near Detroit.
Ford announced the efforts hours after the company warned investors about first-quarter losses and a nearly 16% dive in revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Production of the personal protection equipment for the COVID-19 pandemic will not impact the company's plans to eventually restart production of its U.S. plants, according to Jim Baumbick, Ford vice president of enterprise product line management.
"We've been very thoughtful knowing that we do have a core business to run," he told reporters during a call Monday. "As we move into the restart of the business, we need to be cranking on all cylinders."
Urged by the United Auto Workers union, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors announced plans to temporarily close their plants due to the coronavirus on March 18. Fiat Chrysler last week announced plans to restart production on May 4, while GM and Ford have not yet disclosed new dates to reopen their facilities.