The “Arsenal of Health” is mobilizing.
Parts suppliers for General Motors Co. are preparing to manufacture parts for at least 200,000 ventilators in an effort to stave off a projected shortage of the machines in the fight against the deadly respiratory illness COVID-19.
And Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plans to help with the production of masks during the coronavirus emergency, according to media reports.
FCA CEO Mike Manley revealed the company’s plan in a letter to employees over the weekend. Manley said one of the group’s plants in Asia would be converted to produce face masks for health care workers and quickly reach a target of 1 million masks per month, UILM union representative Gianluca Ficco said, quoting a letter sent by the CEO to employees, The Detroit News reported.
Southfield-based Meridian Lightweight Technologies Holdings Inc. is helping GM procure six different ventilator compressor parts made of magnesium for an estimated 200,000 ventilators, said Joe Petrillo, director of North American sales for Meridian.
The parts are too small for Meridian’s machines, but it’s connected GM with Twin City Die Castings Inc. in Minneapolis, Minn., and Myotek, which operates manufacturing plants in Manistee and China.
Fenton-based Creative Foam Corp. plans to start manufacturing foam parts for ventilators as part of the GM response, said Phil Fioravante, chairman and CEO. The company expects to begin shipping parts as soon as this week, Fioravante said.
“We coalesced as an industry,” Petrillo said. “Usually we (Meridian, Twin City and Myotek) compete, but in this circumstance, we’re not competitors.”
The Society of Critical Care Medicine projects that 960,000 coronavirus patients may become critically ill in the U.S. and need to be put on ventilators. The organization estimates there are only about 200,000 ventilators in the country.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Friday that the State Emergency Operations Center is working to find creative ways to bring more ventilators to Michigan. It’s estimated the state has only 1,000 right now.
“We are working to see how we can increase the number of ventilators in our state,” Whitmer said. “I feel like we are making some progress, but if the federal government is able to procure some ventilators and ship them to Michigan we will be incredibly grateful.”
President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday, “Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST! Go for it auto execs, lets see how good you are?”
Representatives from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House did not immediately provide an answer as to whether the U.S. government was going to buy the additional ventilators.
Meanwhile, Petrillo said the plans to start production as early as Monday were being sent this afternoon.
“We’re off and running. The tool shops are designing tools right now,” said Eric Showalter, CEO of Mytek. “We’re able to at least start to kick off tools in China to build these things. If we get paid, we get paid. We’re all just trying to help where we can.”
GM announced Friday that it partnered with Bothell, Wash.-based Ventec Life Systems to increase production of its ventilators. Ventec will leverage GM’s logistics, purchasing and manufacturing prowess, the automaker said.
It’s unclear whether GM is establishing another assembly line at Ventec’s production plant or will manufacture the additional ventilators at one of its plants.
GM declined to confirm its plans, but has “teams hard at work,” Jim Cain, senior manager of sales and executive communications, told Crain’s in an email.
Magna International has also been contacted to manufacture ventilator parts and is “currently investigating possibilities,” confirmed Tracy Fuerst, vice president of corporate communications for the world’s largest supplier with offices in Troy and several plants in Michigan.
So has Auburn Hills-based powertrain parts supplier BorgWarner Inc. “We have been approached and are currently evaluating if we can support the effort out of our facilities,” Michelle Collins, manager of marketing, told Crain’s in an email.
Several other suppliers were contacted for comment, but did not immediately respond.
Other Michigan industries are also gearing up to battle the novel coronavirus that has infected more than 1,000 and killed nine in Michigan.
Michigan’s beverage distilleries began shifting last week from making spirits from grain alcohol to bacteria-killing hand sanitizer for consumers and bulk customers, such as municipalities and health care institutions.
Whitmer said Friday that Midland-based Dow Inc. may join the effort to resupply health care professionals with personal protection equipment (PPE) and medical supplies.
“Dow is working on manufacturing solutions, too,” Whitmer said at a news conference.
Dow has been talking with state officials and federal regulators on how to bring needed PPE products to market, company spokeswoman Rachelle Schikorra told Crain’s.
“Dow serves several markets critical to managing the coronavirus pandemic including pharmaceutical and health ingredients, textile supplies for applications such as masks and gowns, and more,” Schikorra said Saturday in an email. “We have had conversations with state officials pledging our support to provide critical product needs and are in discussion with the Food & Drug Administration on the regulatory waivers necessary to expedite the process and timing.”
— Crain’s Detroit Business Senior Editor Chad Livengood contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: The original version of this story gave the incorrect name for Dow Inc. This version is correct.
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