3M could make hooded respirators in Ford factories

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3M and Ford say they will work together to make more powered-air purifying-respirators for health care workers, possibly at Ford factories.

The companies are still working out the details on how they will work together in response to needs exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Ford has halted auto manufacturing operations in the U.S.

The protective air purifying respirators, or PAPRs, are in short supply as coronavirus spreads. The PAPR products are different from the N95 respirator masks that 3M manufacturers and for which it recently doubled production levels.

Unlike the N95 masks, which look like cloth that seals around the mouth and nose, 3M’s powered air purifying respirators use a waist-mounted, battery-powered blower that sends filtered air into a hood that helps provide respiratory protection for workers, including those in health care.

“We’re exploring all available opportunities to further expand 3M’s capacity and get health care supplies as quickly as possible to where they’re needed most — which includes partnering with other great companies like Ford,” said 3M CEO Mike Roman in a statement.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett said Ford has “empowered our engineers and designers to move as quickly as possible to help 3M grow PAPR production using common parts to speed this up. We are also volunteering our facilities for additional production.”

3M’s new partnership with Ford comes as other Minnesota manufacturers are racing to make critical supplies for the embattled healthcare industry.

Twin City Die Castings Co. in Minneapolis said Tuesday that it is newly making parts that will go inside 20,000 ventilators. The order resulted from a new partnership between its customer Ventec Life Systems and General Motors. GM is expected to lend Ventec factory space and possible equipment.

Twin City Die Castings CEO Todd Olson said Seattle-based Ventec and GM’s goal is to ultimately produce 20,000 ventilators a month and get to 200,000 machines into hospitals before the end of the year.

If all works out, the fresh revenue will come in handy and help the 225 worker die castings firm recover some of the revenue lost last week when auto parts orders started drying up, Olson said.

Other Minnesota plants have also boosted medical part manufacturing in recent days as they try to combat the coronavirus. Medtronic, Protolabs, and Wyoming Machine are all now making or increasing their ventilator parts while Stratasys in Eden Prairie is 3-D printing face shields for hospital workers.

The companies join 3M in a race to restock depleted hospital supplies.

3M has doubled its global output of N95 respirator masks to a rate of more than 1.1 billion per year, or nearly 100 million per month. It’s South Dakota mask plant is now operating 24/7 as are other mask factories around the globe.

This week CEO Mike Roman said 3M sent more than 500,000 respirators from 3M’s South Dakota plant to New York and Seattle. “We are also ready to expedite additional shipments across the country,” he said.

Roman added that 3M will make new investments and partnerships in an effort to ramp up production even further to 2 billion N95 masks a year within the next 12 months. 3M did not disclose how many additional hooded PAPR systems it hopes to make now that it has partnered with Ford.

3M said that it is making unspecified investments, it is “working with the U.S. and other governments, investigating alternate manufacturing scenarios, and exploring coalitions with other companies to increase capacity further” as it races to get more products into the hands of hospital and health workers battling the virus.

In addition to boosting output of N95 respirator masks and its powered air purifying respirators, 3M said it maximized production of hand sanitizers, disinfectants and other products used to protect against the coronavirus.

3M’s ramp up, however comes at a time when counterfeiters are copying 3M’s N95 masks in droves.

3M CEO Mike Roman wrote U.S. Attorney General William Barr Tuesday to offer 3M’s “support as you protect the public from counterfeiting and price-gouging with respect to critical medical devices, including the respirators and masks that are critical to our country’s medical personnel.”


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