Ford Motor Co. Develops a New Powered Air-Purifying Respirator with 3M in COVID-19 Fight

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【Summary】U.S. automaker Ford Motor Company today announced it has developed a new powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) with design consultation from safety equipment maker 3M to assist healthcare workers in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Eric Walz    May 20, 2020 1:25 PM PT
Ford Motor Co. Develops a New Powered Air-Purifying Respirator with 3M in COVID-19 Fight
In addition to developing a new type of ventilator, Ford is manufacturing face masks for internal and medical use at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant. (Photo: Ford)

With auto production suspended as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. automakers have shifted their focus to building much needed medical supplies for those on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight.

U.S. automaker Ford Motor Company today announced it has developed a new powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) with design consultation from safety equipment maker 3M to assist healthcare workers in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

Production of the new PAPR begin tomorrow at Ford's Vreeland facility near Flat Rock, Michigan. Ford said the Vreeland facility will be able to produce 100,000 or more of the devices. Approximately 90 paid UAW volunteers will assemble the PAPRs.

The all-new PAPR design will help protect healthcare workers on the front lines fighting COVID-19, which has already risen to over 575,000 cases in the U.S. and resulted in the death of over 23,000 people.

The development team expects the respirator design will meet the pending National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) limited-use protocol to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency, with approval anticipated by the end of April.

Pending approval, 3M will distribute the newly designed PAPRs through its U.S. network to health care workers who urgently need them. 

The newly designed PAPR includes a hood and face shield to cover a wearer's head and shoulders. The PAPR also includes a high-efficiency (HEPA) filter system that provides a supply of filtered air for up to 8 hours. The air blower system is similar to the fan found in the ventilated seats in Ford F-150 pickup models. The fan is powered by a rechargeable battery.

With assistance from 3M, Ford engineers were able to rapidly design and prototype components for the new PAPR's, reducing development times to less than four weeks, the company said.

Like its chief rival General Motors, Ford is expanding its efforts to produce urgently needed medical equipment and supplies for healthcare workers, first responders and patients fighting coronavirus instead of building vehicles.

Both U.S. automakers suspended their vehicle production in March as a result of the coronavirus.

On March 27, President Trump formally invoked the Defense Production Act in order to force General Motors to produce much needed ventilators. The law was enacted after the Korean War in 1950 to ensure that the U.S. has enough supplies for its defense, which in this case is from the virus itself.

"We knew that to play our part helping combat coronavirus, we had to go like hell and join forces with experts like 3M to expand production of urgently needed medical equipment and supplies, '' said Jim Baumbick, vice president, Ford Enterprise Product Line Management in a statement. "In just three weeks under Project Apollo, we've unleashed our world-class manufacturing, purchasing and design talent to get scrappy and start making personal protection equipment and help increase the availability and production of ventilators."

Ford said that its manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain experts have been embedded at 3M manufacturing facilities since late March to help increase production of urgently needed products, including N95 respirators for healthcare workers.

"By working collaboratively with 3M to quickly combine more than 100 years of Ford manufacturing and engineering expertise with personal protection equipment design and expertise, we're getting much-needed technology into the hands of frontline medical workers to help when they need it most," said Marcy Fisher, Ford director, Global Body Exterior and Interior Engineering.

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 PAPRs, Ford is making face masks for internal use and pursuing certification for the masks for medical use after the CDC encouraged all U.S. residents to use masks to curb the spread of the virus. 

The face masks can help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Ford is making face masks at its Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Michigan. Production began earlier this week.

Around 30 UAW paid volunteers will start making masks in the plant's ISO Class 8 cleanroom, which is a controlled environment suitable for the manufacture of medical equipment. Eventually, up to 80 UAW paid volunteers will make masks as production increases.

"UAW Ford members continue to step up and volunteer to work during this difficult time as we expand at the facility across from Flat Rock to make respirators and at the Van Dyke Transmission Plant to make face masks for medical use," said Gerald Kariem, vice president, UAW Ford Department. "The UAW also continues to work with Ford to follow stringent CDC guidelines and go above and beyond protections for these members who are so proudly volunteering to serve their communities and their nation."

As of April 13, Ford had produced more than 3 million face shields for medical personnel and first responders. 

Ford is Also Making Medical Gowns from Air Bag Material

To help further protect health care workers, Ford is leading efforts to manufacture reusable gowns with its airbag supplier Joyson Safety Systems. The project has created reusable gowns made from material that's used to make airbags in Ford vehicles.

Production of gowns will reach 75,000 gowns a week by Sunday and scale up to 100,000 gowns for the week of April 19 and beyond. By July 4, Ford-supplier Joyson Safety Systems will cut and sew 1.3 million gowns, which are self-tested to federal standards and are washable up to 50 times.

Ford worked with Beaumont Health in Metro Detroit to quickly design the gown pattern and test for sizing during fit and function trials. More than 5,000 gowns have already been delivered to the hospital.

"The need to protect our medical teams is heightened – Ford's gown production could not come at a better time during this crisis," said David Claeys, president of Beaumont Health hospitals in Dearborn and Farmington Hills. "Our front line health care workers are working around the clock to treat COVID-19 patients and we need the necessary supplies to support them."

"We are doing all we can to expand production and availability of personal protective equipment to help keep the true heroes – medical personnel – and our communities safe in the fight against COVID-19," said Adrian Price, director, Global Core Engineering for Vehicle Manufacturing at Ford.

Ford also has a website for those interested in contributing to the coronavirus effort. Companies or individuals who are interested in assisting Ford can submit their information at

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