It may be one of the most superfluous features of Ford’s market-leading F-150 pickup truck: the heated and cooled front seats. But the tiny blower that powers those seats could also be key to a ventilation system designed in recent days by Ford engineers that could save lives during the coronavirus crisis.
The company’s executive chairman, Bill Ford, says Ford engineers and manufacturing experts are going into their parts bin to see what the company can do with tools it already has on hand.
Ford announced this morning it is partnering with 3M and GE Healthcare and the United Auto Workers to speed up the manufacture of critically needed medical equipment.
Already at the company’s advanced Manufacturing Center, UAW workers are using 3D printers to assemble clear plastic face shields for emergency room personnel.
The most ambitious partnership may be with Chicago-based GE Healthcare: ramping up production of a simplified version of its ventilator products- machines that are crucial for patients in severe respiratory distress as a result of the coronavirus.
“We are working with GE on ventilators to dramatically increase the capability they have to deliver these in numbers,” Ford said.
If needed, Ford says idled plants like its massive Chicago Assembly plant could be pressed into service.
“We have been around 117 years," said Ford who is both the great-grandson of Henry Ford and great-grandson of Harvey Firestone. “We were the arsenal of democracy during two world wars…we built iron lungs for polio victims."
"When we are called on, we are there,” Ford told the Today Show Tuesday morning.
A major question over who will be paying for all the extra machines and devices that these partnerships will produce remains unanswered.
“Nobody’s talked about the financial implications of this because this is an actual emergency,” Ford said.
Although the president has signed the defense production act, no companies are yet being compelled to make goods necessary to fight the coronavirus. This is a volunteer effort, for now.
Both GM and Tesla have also expressed interest in making ventilators and other products, if necessary.