Auto giants switch up production for crisis

April 07, 2020 | 08:00
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A series of giant carmakers across the world, including in Vietnam, have started converting part of their facilities to produce ventilators and face masks to fight the coronavirus pandemic that is biting into their main portfolio investment.
auto giants switch up production for crisis
Technicians are testing machines used to manufacture face masks at GM’s Michigan facility. Photo: John F. Martin for General Motors

Vietnam’s biggest listed firm Vingroup, which runs the VinFast auto brand, said on Friday it will produce ventilators for the country’s fight against the coronavirus outbreak. The group has entered into an agreement with Medtronic for its ventilator production, the company said in a statement, adding that it can produce up to 55,000 units a month.

Lamborghini was one of the latest carmakers to convert departments, with its production plant in Italy’s Sant’Agata Bolognese set up to produce surgical masks and protective medical shields.

Under the announcement, 1,000 masks a day will be made in the upholstery department, which commonly produces the interiors and customisations for Lamborghini cars. At the same time, 200 protective medical shields in polycarbonate a day will be made inside the composites production plant and at the research and development department with the use of 3D printers, according to its website.

Last week, General Motors (GM) also reported that it was trying its best to begin manufacturing surgical masks at a production facility in Michigan as well as producing critical care ventilators at a components plant in Indiana that is expected to churn out more than 10,000 units per month once it reaches full production. Other automakers have also begun work on ventilators, masks, and other medical equipment, including Ford, Toyota, Saic, GAC, and Tesla.

In the US, Ford is expected to expand production of ventilators through entering into partnership with GE Healthcare as well as increase production of 3M respirators by six-fold in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Toyota said it is dealing with at least two partners to increase production of ventilators and respirators. It expects to begin mass-producing 3D-printed face shields, and is seeking partners to make filters for face masks.

The positive movements come as the demand for masks and ventilators increases sharply with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe. Many carmakers have temporarily suspended production due to the spread of COVID-19.

The British government also called on carmakers such as Vauxhall, Airbus, and Rolls-Royce to switch assembly lines over to produce mechanical ventilators.

The World Health Organization has called on industry and governments to increase manufacturing of such products by 40 per cent to meet rising global demand. It has warned that severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment – caused by the rising demand, panic buying, hoarding, and misuse – is putting lives at risk of the new coronavirus and other infectious diseases.

It reported that since the start of the outbreak, the price of such items has surged. Surgical masks have seen a six-fold increase, N95 respirators have trebled, and gowns have doubled.

By Nguyen Thu

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