COVID-19

Ford working with 3M, GE Healthcare on ventilator, respirator production, to 3D-print shields

The automaker is using new 3D printing technology to create face shields.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford has announced that it has reached an agreement to partner with 3M and GE Healthcare to aid in the production of medical equipment needed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, colloquially known as coronavirus. Additionally, Ford will leverage its in-house 3D printing ability to produce 100,000 face shields per week. The move has the full support of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

"This is such a critical time for America and the world. It is a time for action and cooperation. By coming together across multiple industries, we can make a real difference for people in need and for those on the front lines of this crisis," said Bill Ford, Ford's executive chairman. "At Ford, we feel a deep obligation to step up and contribute in times of need, just as we always have through the 117-year history of our company."

Ford 3M GE Healthcare The automaker is leveraging its manufacturing facilities to help with the crisis.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford, 3M partner on respirators

Ford and 3M will increase the manufacturing capacity of the St. Paul, Minnesota-based company's powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) utilizing a new design that could be procured in a Ford facility in Michigan by UAW workers.

According to Ford, the teams have been locating "off-the-shelf parts like fans from the Ford F-150's cooled seats for airflow, 3M HEPA air filters to filter airborne contaminants such as droplets that carry virus particles and portable tool battery packs to power these respirators for up to eight hours."

"Working with 3M and GE, we have empowered our teams of engineers and designers to be scrappy and creative to quickly help scale up production of this vital equipment," said Jim Hackett, Ford's president and CEO. "We've been in regular dialogue with federal, state and local officials to understand the areas of greatest needs. We are focusing our efforts to help increase the supply of respirators, face shields and ventilators that can help assist health care workers, first responders, critical workers as well as those who have been infected by the virus."

"We're exploring all available opportunities to further expand 3M's capacity and get healthcare supplies as quickly as possible to where they're needed most – which includes partnering with other great companies like Ford," said Mike Roman, 3M chairman of the board and chief executive officer. "It's crucial that we mobilize all resources to protect lives and defeat this disease, and I'm incredibly grateful to Ford and their employees for this partnership."

Ford 3M GE Healthcare Ford's team is already at work on perfecting techniques.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford, GE Healthcare team up to produce ventilators

In addition to the 3M partnership, Ford and GE Healthcare are working together to expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare's existing ventilator. These ventilators could be produced at a Ford manufacturing site in addition to a GE location.

"We are encouraged by how quickly companies from across industries have mobilized to address the growing challenge we collectively face from COVID-19," said GE Healthcare President & CEO Kieran Murphy. "We are proud to bring our clinical and technical expertise to this collaboration with Ford, working together to serve unprecedented demand for this life-saving technology and urgently support customers as they meet patient needs."

Work on this initiative ties to a request for help from U.S. government officials.

Ford 3M GE Healthcare Ford's engineering team has come up with a design for a filtration system.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

3D printing respirators and face shields

Ford's design team is working to create and test transparent full-face shield for medical workers and first responders. The face shields fully block the face and eyes from accidental contact with liquids and when paired with N95 respirators can be a more effective way to limit potential exposure to coronavirus than N95 respirators alone.

The first 1,000 face shields will be tested this week at Detroit Mercy, Henry Ford Health Systems, and Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace Hospitals. Roughly 75,000 of these shields are expected to be finished this week and more than 100,000 face shields per week will be produced at Ford subsidiary Troy Design and Manufacturing's facilities in Plymouth, Mich.

Ford 3M GE Healthcare Ford's engineering team has shown off a sketch of a disposable hood design.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

According to a release, Ford is leveraging its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan, and in-house 3D printing capabilities to manufacture disposable respirators, which are needed to help filter the air healthcare workers and first responders breathe. Once approved by the proper health agency, Ford will initially start at a pace equal to 1,000 per month but that production can grow quickly.

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SCCA's Track Night in America events take place across the country at lesser-known tracks.

Photo by Dan Sabol

For a parent, weekends are precious. Weekends are for road trips, backyard parties, and youth sporting events. A mere 52 opportunities to connect with your family.

For the gearhead, however, a weekend can mean a long couple of days away, driving or towing to the nearest track for some full-throttle action. While the family can and often does tag along at weekend track events, devoting attention to the car, the kids, and the spouse can be a challenge.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost The Ford Mustang is sold as either a coupe (shown here) or a convertible.Photo by Chris Tonn

Since 2015, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has been offering an alternative to a weekend at the races. Their Track Night in America program is a mid-week track experience open to just about anyone with a car and a helmet. It starts mid-afternoon and leads into the twilight hours. For this dad, sneaking away from the office at noon and missing a single dinner with the family is a much better alternative to an entire weekend away.

Over the past five years, the SCCA has offered over 650 Track Night events at 47 different tracks – and finally, an event popped up in my home state of Ohio. I had a 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost coming to my door to test. I'd finally run out of excuses – it was time to get on track.

With a bunch of sweeping corners spread over a brief two miles, the Nelson Ledges racecourse between Cleveland and Pittsburgh has been thrilling racers for decades. It's a throwback to the early tracks that appeared in the 1960z – it's rustic. Many newer tracks offer a country club atmosphere – Nelson Ledges has a shack with some bathrooms, a timing building that is undergoing some repairs, and a few picnic tables. It's all about the on-track experience, and this track delivers.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost The Mustang's available High Performance package added 19-inch machined-face aluminum wheels to the tester.Photo by Chris Tonn

The EcoBoost High Performance package on my tester seemed ready-made for track duties. It adds 20 horsepower to the standard turbocharged four-cylinder (up to 330 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque), alongside many of the suspension, braking, and aerodynamic goodies from Ford's V8-powered GT Performance Package. For me, the highlight was the 13.9-inch brake rotors being clamped by large four-piston calipers. These brakes give plenty of stopping power on track, and never felt like they were fading under the heat of stops from triple digits.

Track Night in America is meant for street cars, not race cars, as the SCCA's goal is to let people simply have fun with the cars they already have. Many other track day programs tend to encourage drivers to work their way up a "ladder" of sorts from novice track events to time trials all the way to wheel-to-wheel racing. While that's certainly an option, the SCCA just wants people to enjoy performance driving in a safe environment without the pressure to compete.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Ford gave the test car a larger rear sway bar and unique stability control tuning, elevating its on-track performance.Photo by Chris Tonn

I wish something like this had been around twenty-plus years ago as I began to make a little bit of money. While I'd long spent time at the track as an avid spectator, getting on track back then generally required a dedicated race car. I explored those options – even going so far to buy a retired SCCA Honda Civic to get back on track for myself, only to be laid off shortly after getting it home – and I found myself pushing my motorsport ambitions aside.

Track Night lets drivers self-select into one of just three groups – Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced, all based on prior track experience. There's no breaking out cars based on speed – just driver ability. Considering our current pandemic, Track Night is well positioned – there are no instructors strapped in the passenger seat. Rather, they space out and observe from trackside, and will pull aside drivers to give pointers and encouragement between each of the three twenty-minute track sessions.

The novice group gets accordingly more attention, as well as a masked-up group debriefing after each session. The instructors joked that social distancing is important on track as well as in the paddock – a safe six feet helps to keep away both viruses and sheet metal damage.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost The car's Showstopper red leather upholstery adds a bit of a dramatic touch to the interior.Photo by Chris Tonn

As I have little actual on-track experience, I selected the novice group. I was expecting some slower cars in the group – and while there were a couple, I was also watching my mirrors fill with C7 Corvettes, Porsche Caymans, and a Chevy Camaro SS 1LE. The four-banger Mustang was quick – keeping pace except coming off corners with a recent five-liter Mustang – but let down a bit by the ten-speed automatic transmission, which was reluctant to shift as quickly as I'd like. The car was magic in the corners, however, as the balance afforded by the lightweight engine let both ends of the car rotate at will.

Instructors told me that their main goal is for everyone to drive home with the same intact car they arrived in, so keeping within the limits of both the car and the driver is paramount. Only one incident marred our evening – a snarling Chevy El Camino modified in the Pro Touring style came back to the paddock on the end of a rope with some tire barrier damage to the left side of the car, though it seemed to drive home without problems.

Track Night in America 2020 Ford Mustang EcoBoost Photo by Dan Sabol

SCCA has a winning program on their hands. Over five years, over forty thousand drivers have registered for Track Night events. It's a great way to keep socially distant at speed. I missed a conference call and one family dinner, and was home in time to tuck the kids into bed. I get to spend another weekend with my family. Admittedly, I'll spend some of that weekend pondering if I can trade the family minivan for a new Mustang EcoBoost.

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