General Motors is training employees at its Kokomo, IN, components plant in preparation for volume production of ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
Workers at the plant, which manufactures precision electrical components, were furloughed March 20 as a precaution against exposure to the virus. The Ventec Life Systems critical care ventilators will be manufactured by more than 1,000 current GM employees and new hires from the Kokomo area when production fully ramps up.
The plant will manufacture 10,000 or more ventilators per month after mass production begins in mid-April, GM says in a news release. Demand for ventilators, which help patients severely afflicted with COVID-19 breathe, is vastly outstripping supplies as the pandemic spreads.
“Every ventilator we build can help save lives, and GM’s global supply base and manufacturing teams, the UAW and the Kokomo community are working with passion and unwavering commitment to get the job done,” says Gerald Johnson, GM executive vice president-Global Manufacturing.
“People have moved mountains to help increase production of Ventec’s critical care ventilator and we are just weeks away from delivering these lifesaving devices. I have never seen anything like it in my career.”
GM spokesman Dan Flores tells the Kokomo Tribune furloughed GM Kokomo employees will have the first opportunity to apply for jobs, followed by employees from the automaker’s stamping plant in Marion, IN. The number of temporary employees GM hires will depend on how many Kokomo and Marion workers volunteer for ventilator production, Flores tells the newspaper.
Extensive screening, cleaning and other measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be in place to help protect employees working at the Kokomo plant.
The Kokomo ventilator effort began with a March 17 phone call between GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and representatives of StopTheSpread.Org, who suggested the automaker work with Seattle-based Ventec. Executives with both companies spoke March 18 about ways GM could help increase ventilator production.
GM engaged its global supply base March 20 and within 72 hours had developed plans to source 100% of all 700 necessary parts. Crews began preparing the Kokomo plant for production March 25.
Kokomo employee Debbie Hollis (above), a member of UAW Local 292, says she is excited about contributing to the effort.
“I have family all across the country, so (COVID-19) has impacted everybody that I know and love,” she says. “I’m grateful that I get a chance to do my part and be a part of something...we are modern-day Rosie the Riveters.”
Among the measures to protect workers:
- All workers will wear medical-grade protective masks, including masks produced at GM’s Warren, MI, facility.
- There will be a 30-minute interval between shifts to allow employees to clean their workstations when they arrive and again before they leave.
- Each workstation will be manned by one person, and each workstation will be spaced at least six feet apart.
- Cleaning crews will clean and sanitize common touch surfaces such as door handles, as well as common areas, at least three times per shift (below).
- Each shift will enter and exit through a different door to minimize social contact.
The Kokomo effort is endorsed by the UAW.
“As our nation struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteer UAW-GM members are doing a tremendous service for our country by volunteering to come to work to make ventilators in Kokomo,” says Terry Dittes, head of the union’s GM Dept. “For that reason, the UAW has worked with GM to put in place stringent CDC health and safety protocols.
“Our goal is to make sure that each and every day, people return home to their families and communities safe and healthy.”
Ford, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, said Tuesday it expects to produce 50,000 ventilators within the next 100 days and can manufacture 30,000 a month if needed, The Associated Press reports.