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Automakers shifting from manufacturing cars to medical equipment

Automakers shifting from manufacturing cars to medical equipment

With the auto market understandably on hold right now, the huge manufacturing base that is the automotive industry is shifting towards making medical equipment. But how straightforward is it to switch from making cars and trucks to making ventilators?

The answer is not very straightforward.

In the US, Ford, General Motors and Tesla have pledged their support to deliver more equipment. Fiat and FCA have already switched some production across the globe to making face masks. Nissan and some Formula 1 teams and their supporting manufacturers have also begun switching manufacturing towards medical equipment.

Ford has already begun making face shields for medicine and should be making the first deliveries this week.

Making ventilators

The switch from making engines to ventilators may be incredibly complex or not as difficult as it might seem depending on who you ask. An interview with Jens Hallek, head of ventilator manufacturer Hamilton Medical, in Wired said that the materials and the components needed to build a ventilator are "highly specific" and require "specialised know-how".

In the same piece, Nick Oliver, automotive industry expert and management professor at the University of Edinburgh said, “There is no product that I can think of in the automotive industry that has to move air and oxygen around in a similar way to a ventilator.”

You would expect a medical equipment representative to make a big deal out of how complicated their products are to justify its position and unit price but I’m not sure that type of attitude will last. Nothing brings out people’s creativity and tenacity like an emergency and COVID-19 is an emergency like the world has never seen.

Dyson and vacuum maker G-Tech in the UK have both designed brand new ventilators and are bringing them to production immediately. Arguably, they make precision equipment already that uses suction and pressure to move air around. Yet if James Dyson can invent and make a concept ready for testing in ten days, automakers can likely do something very similar.

With car production slowly grinding to a halt, automakers are prime candidates for being repurposed to designing and building medical equipment. Whether that’s ventilators or PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) for medicine, any contribution they make to help the world cope with this global pandemic is going to be welcome.

Not only will this keep the factories turning over and people in jobs during this crisis, it will also help the medical profession cope with the rising number of cases.

The will is clearly there but the expertise and tooling for the various technical components of a ventilator is not. That may take time but the auto industry has become used to moving much, much faster than it used to. Hopefully it won’t be tool long before we see a ventilator with Ford or Ram on the side!

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