Ford, GE Healthcare to produce 50,000 ventilators by July using this tiny company’s design

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Ford and GE Healthcare have licensed a ventilator design from Airon Corp and plan to produce as many as 50,000 of them at a Michigan factory by July as part of a broader effort to provide a critical medical device used to treat people with COVID-19.

Ford will initially send a team of engineers to help boost production at Airon’s Florida facility, where it produces just three of its Airon Model A ventilators per day. Ford will also begin to ready its own Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan for large-scale production of the Airon Model A-E ventilator that is expected to begin April 20. Ford said that it will pay 500 United Auto Workers, who have volunteered to work at the factory. Ford has suspended production of its vehicles during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ford said Monday that it expects to produce 1,500 Airon ventilators by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May and 50,000 by July. The automaker also said it will eventually have the capacity to build 30,000 a month.

Ford and GE Healthcare are also working on scaling production of a simplified ventilator design from GE Healthcare.

Monday’s announcement highlights the latest effort by automakers and medical device manufacturers to help ease a shortage of ventilators, a medical device that is used in the treatment of COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus. COVID-19 attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment yet, ventilators are relied upon to help people breathe and fight the disease. There are about 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply, the NYT has reported.

Last week, GM said it would start producing Ventec Life Systems ventilators at its engine plant in Kokomo, Ind., using about 1,000 workers. GM said production will begin in the next seven to 14 days with the first shipments of the FDA-cleared ventilators scheduled to begin in April. Ventec is also trying to ramp up production at its manufacturing facility in Bothell, Wash.

The Ford-GE Healthcare collaboration also brings attention to Airon, a small privately held company that specializes in high-tech pneumatic life support products. The company’s Airon Model A-E ventilator, which GE Healthcare introduced to Ford, operates on air pressure without the need for electricity, according to the companies. Airon has been producing this ventilator since 2004.

The Airon design was chosen for its simplicity, which should allow the Ford to scale production quickly. The FDA-cleared design is expected to meet the needs of most COVID-19 patients with respiratory failure or difficulty breathing, according to Tom Westrick, vice president and chief quality officer at GE Healthcare. Westrick said they consulted clinicians to confirm that the Airon ventilator is well suited to address the urgent needs during the COVID-19 crisis.

Under the partnership, Ford will provide its manufacturing resources and GE Healthcare will license the ventilator design from Airon and lend its clinical expertise.