Ford’s partnership with GE Healthcare expects to produce 50,000 simplified ventilators by July 8 to help critically ill coronavirus patients, with cranked-up production of 30,000 per month after that as needed, the companies said in a conference call on Monday.
Ford will rely on a ventilator design from Airon, which is already approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is currently being produced at a rate of three per day at its Melbourne, Florida factory. Ford and GE Healthcare, which is licensing the design from Airon, will need to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA to produce them at scale at Ford’s Rawsonville components plant in Ypsilanti.
“One of the benefits here…is that we are able to move at speed,” Ford vice president Jim Baumbick said in a conference call on Monday. “The reduction in complexity around this Airon device enables us to move more swiftly given the urgency.”
Ford expects to begin production the week of April 20, and to product 1,500 ventilators in April and 12,000 by the end of May. That’s an extremely fast ramp-up for a complex medical device, however it means that the ventilators will not be available in the quantities needed to help hospitals in hard-hit states like New York that expect to face acute shortages in April.
The Airon ventilator, which operates on air pressure without the need for electricity, currently sells for about $7,000, compared with more complex ventilators which go for $20,000 and up. As states have vied to buy ventilators for their ailing residents, they have bid up prices for those devices to $40,000 or more, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said.
The Ford-GE Healthcare effort to produce Airon’s simplified ventilators at scale is their second effort to address the shortages following last week’s announcement that the two companies would work together to crank up production of GE Healthcare’s existing model. Ford’s Rawsonville plant will produce ventilators nearly round-the-clock with three shifts of 500 UAW union workers.
“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,” Ford CEO Jim Hackett said in a statement.
If the companies succeed in producing 50,000 ventilators by July 4, that would account for half of the goal the U.S government has set of producing 100,000 of these devices in 100 days.