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Ford is using airbag material to make medical gowns for health care workers

Ford is one of a number of automakers pivoting to produce medical equipment for front-line health care workers dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

In an update this week, the car giant revealed a slew of new initiatives that include making medical gowns from the material used to produce airbags. The gowns will form part of equipment designed to help prevent hospital workers from contracting the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19. Medical facilities in places such as New York City, which has been hard hit by the virus, are suffering shortages of the equipment.

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Working with airbag supplier Joyson Safety Systems (JSS), production is set to reach 75,000 gowns a week by Sunday, April 19, before scaling up to 100,000 a week soon after.

“By July 4, Ford-supplier JSS will cut and sew 1.3 million gowns, which are self-tested to federal standards and are washable up to 50 times,” the automaker said in a release outlining its efforts, adding that more than 5,000 gowns have already been delivered to Beaumont Health hospitals in the cities of Dearborn and Farmington Hills, Michigan.

In another effort, Ford is working with Minnesota-based 3M to produce an all-new air-purifying respirator (PAPR) designed to help protect front-line health care professionals fighting COVID-19.

The newly designed PAPR features a hood and face shield that covers a worker’s head and shoulders, while a high-efficiency (HEPA) filter system offers a supply of filtered air for up to eight hours.

The air blower system, which Ford points out is similar to the fan found in the F-150’s ventilated seats, is powered by a rechargeable, portable battery that enables the respirator to remain in constant use.

The development team says it’s confident the new design will receive the required approval by the end of April, paving the way for more than 100,000 units — assembled at a Ford facility near Flat Rock, Michigan — to be handed out to health workers.

Ford and 3M intend to donate any profits they earn from the sale of the PAPR to COVID-19-related nonprofit organizations.

The automaker is also lending its manufacturing support to help Thermo Fisher Scientific to more than triple the production of COVID-19 collection kits for patient testing of the virus. Thermo Fisher executive John Reuss commented that it was “great to see different industries coming together to solve a common problem.”

Ford, along with other automakers that include Tesla, Honda, Vauxhall, and Rolls-Royce, could also help to produce much-needed ventilators as part of further efforts to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

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