General Motors accelerates 'Project V' to build ventilators in Indiana

24 March 2020 - 07:50 By Reuters
General Motors world headquarters at Detroit's Renaissance Center.
General Motors world headquarters at Detroit's Renaissance Center.
Image: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

General Motors Co and medical equipment maker Ventec are speeding up efforts under a partnership code-named “Project V” to build ventilators at a GM plant in Kokomo, Indiana, to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.

GM said on Monday that work at the plant, which makes small electronic components for cars, is part of Ventec's effort to expand ventilator production.

GM has arranged for the supply of 95% of the parts needed to build ventilators and is seeking to source the remaining 37 parts, according to an e-mail to suppliers from Shilpan Amin, GM's vice-president of global purchasing.

The goal of the venture is to build up to 200,000 ventilators, said people familiar with the plans, who asked not to be identified.

US president Donald Trump said on Sunday that US automakers GM, Ford Motor Co and Tesla Inc had been given the green light to produce ventilators and other items needed during the outbreak. It was not clear what Trump meant by the companies “being given the go ahead”.

“Ventec Life Systems and General Motors have been working around the clock to implement plans to build more critical care ventilators,” GM spokesperson Dan Flores said in an e-mail on Monday. “With GM’s support, Ventec is now planning exponentially higher ventilator production as fast as possible.

“As part of those efforts, GM is exploring the feasibility to build ventilators for Ventec at a GM facility in Kokomo, Indiana,” he added.

First parts need to be delivered by suppliers to GM by April 6, the sources said. Supplier production could begin “within the next two to three weeks", Amin said in his e-mail. It was not clear when GM might begin production.

Creative Foam Corp in Fenton, Michigan, is one of the auto suppliers joining the effort, though it already has a division serving the health-care sector.

The privately owned company will start making foam parts for the ventilators' air filtration systems this week, CEO Phil Fioravante said. “We already have installed capacity, so we're just repurposing it and utilising it for this end.”

In Minneapolis, auto supplier Twin City Die Castings Co, which had signed a contract to supply Ventec about nine months ago, quickly amped up its plans, CEO Todd Olson said. The employee-owned company makes aluminium and magnesium parts for ventilator compressors and housings.

Now Twin City is converting the parts it was making into die casts for higher-volume production, as the volume target has gone from making parts for 150 ventilators a month to as many as 20,000, he said.

Such a conversion would normally have taken 12 weeks to complete, Olson said, but is being done in one week as employees work almost non-stop. In addition, Twin City and rivals are sharing intellectual property to speed the process. “Luckily, we had a nice jump on this,” Olson said.

On Friday, GM and Ventec said they were teaming up to increase the latter's production of desperately needed ventilators. At the time, GM CEO Mary Barra said the automaker would explore other ways to help Ventec scale up production.

Ford declined to comment on its efforts, but suppliers said the No 2 US carmaker is part of a task force on face masks.

On Sunday, Fiat Chrysler Automobile NV (FCA) CEO Mike Manley told employees in an e-mail that the Italian-American automaker would start converting one of its China plants to make face masks in the coming weeks and ultimately make more than one million masks a month.

Last week, Reuters reported that FCA and Ferrari were working together to help boost ventilator production in Italy.

On Sunday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that the electric carmaker was working on ventilators, which “should arrive within a few days”. He added that he expected Tesla to have about 1,200 to distribute this week.

Musk said the day before that he had had a long engineering discussion with Medtronic PLC about ventilators.

He also said on Sunday that Tesla is also working on getting other types of personal protective equipment and told a hospital the company was sending masks and supplies.