Motoring Weekly

Carmakers to the rescue

April 8 - 14 , 2020

Gulf Weekly Naman Arora
By Naman Arora

Gulf Weekly Carmakers to the rescue

Automobile makers and motorsport teams around the world are joining the efforts to combat the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) by retooling their facilities to produce equipment and supplies for medical teams.

A consortium of industrial, technology and engineering businesses in the UK has come together to produce medical ventilators for the UK National Health Service (NHS).

The “VentilatorChallengeUK” consortium includes Airbus, BAE Systems, Ford, Rolls-Royce and Siemens.

Companies in the consortium have received orders for more than 10,000 ventilators from the government, although regulatory approval is pending.

Meanwhile, University College London Hospital (UCLH) clinicians and engineers worked with Mercedes Formula 1 to build a breathing aid that delivers oxygen to the lungs without needing a ventilator.

Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices are already used in hospitals but are in short supply.

Prof Rebecca Shipley, director of UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering, said: “Normally, medical device development would take years but we’ve done that in days because we went back to a simple existing device and reverse-engineered it in order to be able to produce them quickly and at scale.”

Forty of the new devices have been delivered to UCLH and to three other London hospitals. If trials go well, up to 1,000 of the CPAP machines can be produced per day by Mercedes-AMG-HPP, beginning this week.

Unlike a simple face mask linked to an oxygen supply, CPAP delivers air and oxygen under pressure, so there needs to be a mask creating a tight seal on the patient’s face, over their mouth and nose or a transparent hood over their head.

This is less invasive than a ventilator, for which patients have to be heavily sedated and have a tube inserted into their airway.

Andy Cowell, managing director of Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains, said: “The Formula One community has shown an impressive response to the call for support. We have been proud to put our resources at the service of UCLH to deliver the CPAP project to the highest standards and in the fastest possible timeframe.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced that the company is in the process of converting its first plant to produce one million face masks per month for donation to first responders and health care workers.

The company also expanded its support of coronavirus-relief efforts, providing meals to school children across North America and support for a range of technical, logistical and manufacturing programmes, such as face mask production.

The company is investing technical, logistical and manufacturing resources to produce medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE).

FCA chief executive Mike Manley said: “In this time of need, we’ve focussed our resources on those actions we can implement quickly and that will have the greatest impact, as we did in Italy as soon as the emergency started.”

Ford Motor Company, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, announced that it will begin producing a third-party ventilator with the goal to produce 50,000 of the vitally needed units within 100 days and up to 30,000 a month thereafter as needed.

Ford will provide its manufacturing capabilities and GE Healthcare will provide its clinical expertise, licensing the current ventilator design from Airon Corp – a small, privately held company specialising in high-tech pneumatic life support products.

The GE/Airon Model A-E ventilator uses a design that operates on air pressure without the need for electricity, addressing the needs of most Covid-19 patients. Its production can be quickly scaled to help meet growing demand in the US.

Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and chief executive, said: “The Ford and GE Healthcare teams, working creatively and tirelessly, have found a way to produce this vitally needed ventilator quickly and in meaningful numbers. By producing this ventilator in Michigan, in strong partnership with the UAW, we can help health care workers save lives, and that’s our top priority.”

Ford expects to produce 1,500 by the end of April, 12,000 by the end of May and 50,000 by July 4 – helping the US government meet its goal of producing 100,000 ventilators in 100 days.

The Airon-licensed Model A-E ventilator is the second Ford-GE Healthcare ventilator collaboration. Last week, Ford and GE Healthcare announced a separate effort to produce a simplified ventilator design from GE Healthcare. The GE Healthcare and Ford teams have already increased output of the R19 Ventilator. The combined ventilator supply will help address the increasing surge demand for ventilators around the US in the fight against Covid-19, each well suited to meet time, production volume and patient care requirements.

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