The Car Man vs. COVID-19

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How does a car company switch to producing ventilators in the age of COVID-19? Flavio Volpe, President of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA) joins us to talk about marshalling his members to convert production lines from making car parts to medical equipment. Plus, Volpe’s choice of bitchin’ tunes to play while burning rubber in an 1985 IROC-Z.

Canadian auto parts manufacturers are in a good position to adapt because our industries aren’t completely locked down like in Europe. The infrastructure required to produce the much needed medical equipment already exists in the factories, it is just a matter of implementing the same process to create a different output. Volpe also commented to CBC News that “they could convert back to automotive manufacturing quickly” when the urgent need for medical supplies levels off.

Volpe said that while the parts and equipment manufacturers are able to pivot their assembly lines to produce ventilators, ventilator parts and PPEs, this is not a money-making venture; it is a means of contributing to the cause and the health and safety of the communities in which these producers operate. Volpe indicates that the auto parts industry is producing COVID-related products at a fraction of the capacity they normally produce industry-related products. Producing PPE and other medical equipment is not a money-driven venture, but it opens the door for APMA members to adapt and help when similar needs arise in the future. The reason why auto parts manufacturers are uniquely positioned to aid the COVID crisis is that the facilities are equipped to produce products on a very large scale, which is what’s required right now. Volpe assures that these companies have the flexibility to deliver on order mandates for the medical equipment and flip back to parts manufacturing once this is all over. In some cases, manufacturers may be producing both medical equipment and auto parts at the same time.

APMA member Woodbridge Group was the first company to step in and rework its facilities to produce ASTM Level 3 masks, the first 1000 of which were delivered into provincial distribution on April 7th.

Autoparts giant Magna International is working together with Linamar Corp. and Martinrea International under direction from the Ontario Government and the APMA to produce 10,000 ventilators.

In Windsor, ON, Ford Motor Company has reworked its facility to produce face shields for the medical industry.

While auto parts manufacturers possess the necessary infrastructure to produce the much-needed equipment, they also need certain supplies, which are increasingly difficult to obtain due to strained supply chains. The provincial government is currently working with the APMA to help increase the flow of required goods to factories in a timely manner.

Other industries pivoting regular production to ease the COVID crisis are:

Distilleries and Breweries

North American distilleries are using the alcohol they have on hand to produce hand sanitizer. Close to home, Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers in Beamsville, ON is producing free hand sanitizer and disinfectant cleaners for first responders and Meals On Wheels in the Niagara region and they will continue to do so for as long as the need exists. Dillon’s is also making separate batches of sanitizer product available to the general public at cost using distilled spirits that would normally go into gin and whiskey production.

Breweries are also contributing to the cause, with Labatt switching Canadian facilities from processing beer to hand sanitizer for distribution to frontline workers, food banks and restaurant workers across the country.

Apparel

Workwear brand Dickies and parent company VF Corporation will convert five manufacturing facilities in order to produce PPE gowns. In the April 16, 2020 press release, VF and Dickies announced that production will begin the following week with an initial output and shipment of 50,000 gowns in May, up to 675,000 by June and at full capacity, production is forecasted to be 3.4 million gowns by September. Fabric for the gowns will come from Dickies’ long-time supplier Milliken & Company. This is not the first time that Dickies has answered the call to produce necessary items for front line workers. The heritage workwear brand delivered millions of uniforms to the U.S. military during WWII and their current initiative to address the PPE shortage is representative of the brand’s core values: “Dickies has stood alongside generations of workers, and in light of these unprecedented times, we’re joining in the effort to help healthcare professionals on the frontlines,” commented Denny Bruce, Dickies Global Brand President.

Women’s undergarment brand Commando, which manufactures its products in-house at their headquarters in Vermont has enlisted its team to shift production from lingerie to masks. Made of 100% cotton or cotton blends, the washable and reusable masks are being created to address shortages in local area hospitals and community organizations.

Canadian luxury parka company Canada Goose has already begun to produce protective medical gowns in Winnipeg and Toronto with plans to bring its six other facilities online to reach the weekly capacity goal of 60,000 gowns per week in order to reach the projected 1.5 million gowns in total. The production workforce will be 900 people at capacity.

When mentioning Canadian manufacturers we’d be remiss to leave a hockey reference off the list. Equipment manufacturer Bauer Hockey will be making full face single-use visors for medical personnel with plans to reach an output of 500,000 units.

Music

Musical accessories company D’Addario is striking a new beat by re-engineering its Evans G2 drumheads into face shields for frontline medical workers. Production of the shields is expected to commence around April 27 with a weekly goal of 100,000 shields at capacity. The company already produces physical therapy products, which allows ready access to a distribution network for the face shields. Located in Farmingdale, New York, the state that has been hardest hit by COVID-19, D’Addario has committed to producing the shields for “as long as they’re needed in New York or anywhere around the globe” says Chief Innovation Officer, Jim D’Addario.

There is no doubt that our world is in crisis, but it provides some hope to see that industries are working to find solutions to the problems facing the medical community and general public. One can only hope that this shred of positivity in an otherwise bleak situation carries over into the new normal, whenever we happen to get there.

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