OEMs and suppliers join forces to fight Covid-19 on a global scale

by Sumana Sarkar 29 Mar 2020


The automotive industry, both vehicle manufacturers and component suppliers, the world over has joined forces across the world to fight the onset of coronavirus which has, till today, claimed over 30,000 lives and afflicted nearly 700,000 people. The automotive industry, which is known to have some of the best engineering brains in the world and high-quality manufacturing practices, is now actively engaged in helping governments and health providers with manufacture of life-saving ventilators, masks and protective gears for healthcare personnel. 

Leading automakers and suppliers, which have shuttered their manufacturing plants since the third week of March, have offered to facilitate as well as augment production of Covid-19-fighting equipment. Here's a look at some of the initiatives.

Maruti Suzuki to make ventilators, masks and protective gear
At the behest of the Government of India, Maruti Suzuki India has engaged itself in the production of ventilators, masks and other protective equipment. An arrangement has been entered into with AgVa Healthcare, an existing approved manufacturer of ventilators. Maruti Suzuki India will work with AgVa Healthcare to rapidly scale up production of ventilators and reach volume of 10,000 units per month. The OEM will use its suppliers to produce the required volume of components and use its experience and knowledge to upgrade systems for the production and quality control of the higher volumes.

Krishna Maruti, a joint venture of Maruti Suzuki India with Ashok Kapur, would be manufacturing 3-ply masks for supply to the Haryana and Central governments. Production is expected to start as soon as all approvals are received. Mr Ashok Kapur will provide 2 million masks free of cost as his own contribution. Bharat Seats, a joint venture of MSIL with the Relan family, would be manufacturing protective clothing as soon as all approvals are in place.

Mahindra set to make face masks and low-cost ventilator
Mahindra & Mahindra also plans to manufacture ventilators. Anand Mahindra recently tweeted that the company is working with an indigenous maker of ICU ventilators, which are sophisticated machines costing between Rs 5-10 lakh. This device being developed by them is an interim lifesaver and the team estimates it will cost below Rs 7,500. The prototype of the bag valve mask, which is commonly known as an Ambu bag was developed in 48 hours as per the company. The team from Mahindra’s Kandivali and Igatpuri plants, which is working on it, hopes to scale up the basic prototype which is optimising automobile engineering for addressing medical emergencies and taking expert help to further fine-tune the design.

But M&M has not stopped at that either. The company will begin manufacturing face shield/mask, developed from a design sourced from Ford Motor Corporation starting March 30.The Mahindra and Ford collaborative effort is a good example of a set of automotive industry alliance partners contributing to the fight against coronavirus.

In a tweet, Dr Pawan Goenka, Managing Director, Mahindra & Mahindra, explained:  "With a design sourced from our partner Ford Motor, we are now ready to make this Face Shield for use of medical service providers. Targeting to make 500 on Monday and then ramp up."

Automakers worldwide pitch in
Ford too hasn’t stopped its effort at just that. Globally, especially in the US, where the number of those infected and dead from Covid-19 is multiplying in geometric progression, the more than 100-year-old company is joining forces with another centennial GE Healthcare and manufacturing company 3M to quickly expand production of urgently needed medical equipment and supplies. In addition, Ford plans to assemble more than 100,000 face shields per week and leverage its in-house 3D printing capability to produce components for use in personal protective equipment.

“This is such a critical time for America and the world. It is a time for action and cooperation. By coming together across multiple industries, we can make a real difference for people in need and for those on the front lines of this crisis,” said Bill Ford, Ford’s executive chairman. “At Ford, we feel a deep obligation to step up and contribute in times of need, just as we always have through the 117-year history of our company.”

But when it comes to using 3D printing to address this medical emergency, Ford is not the only one in the fray either.

German automaker Mercedes-Benz has offered its support with the production of medical equipment. With the aid of 3D printers, individual components can be produced that are urgently needed in medical technology as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“With our highly competent team and years of experience in 3D printing technology, we are ready to make our contribution to the production of medical devices,” says Jörg Burzer, Member of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz AG, Production and Supply Chain. “To this end, we are also in contact with the state government of Baden-Wurttemberg. Our expertise and specialist knowledge is available for production; now it is up to the medical technology sector to contact us. Our 3D printers are definitely available.”

Meanwhile in a bid to address the global shortage of masks, Tesla boss Elon Musk is in talks with Medtronics. His tweet on March 22 indicated the same: “Just had a long engineering discussion with Medtronic about state-of-the-art ventilators. Very impressive team!” In fact, Medtronics too shared the enthusiasm with a tweet: “Addressing #COVID19 is a group effort. We are grateful for the discussion with @ElonMusk  and @Tesla as we work across industries to solve problems and get patients and hospitals the tools they need to continue saving lives. We're all in this together.”

Musk further explained why it makes perfect sense for Tesla to jump in and elaborated their area expertise in this tweet on March 19: “Tesla makes cars with sophisticated HVAC systems. SpaceX makes spacecraft with life support systems. Ventilators are not difficult, but cannot be produced instantly. Which hospitals have these shortages you speak of right now?”

Component industry lends its expertise too
Automobile manufacturers are not alone in the fight against Coronavirus. Component makers are participating with equal enthusiasm. In India, the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA) has created a taskforce which is evaluating the possibility of making facemasks, hand-sanitisers by its members.

A key component player in India and a German Tier 1, Bosch together with Randox Laboratories has developed fully automated rapid test for Covid 19 that can help medical facilities such as doctors’ offices, hospitals, laboratories, and health centres make fast diagnoses. The rapid molecular diagnostic test runs on the Vivalytic analysis device from Bosch Healthcare Solutions. “It will speed up the identification and isolation of infected patients,” said DrVolkmarDenner, chairman of the board of management, Robert Bosch.

The global automotive industry has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic with supply chains being bit. Production lines have come to a standstill worldwide as the pandemic is spreading at a fast and furious pace. No doubt therefore as countries are slowing traffic movement with lockdown, the automobile industry is pressing the pedal on the metal to innovate, execute and strategise to come out as a winner. A disruption that is bringing humanity closer, more than ever before and putting health back on top of the global priority list.