(FILES) In this file, which was recorded on June 12, 2019, line workers are working on the chassis of General Motors pickups in full size Flint Assembly plant in Flint, Michigan – President Donald Trump enacted federal ordinance on March 27, 2020 to force auto giant General Motors to manufacture ventilators as supplies of critical hospital equipment and coronavirus infections become scarce across the country (Photo) by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP)
The automotive industry offers the hospital sector its expertise and workforce to build mechanical ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic, an initiative that has met with some skepticism.
American automakers General Motors and Ford, French automakers PSA and Renault, and Formula 1 engineers have joined the ranks in response to a massive global shortage of vital medical devices.
With hospitals around the world facing COVID-19 patients with breathing difficulties, the lack of ventilators has forced doctors to make life and death decisions.
The conversion of car factories for emergency production has drawn comparisons with the Second World War when they were used to build tanks and fighter planes.
However, some experts say that building intensive care ventilators in this situation requires different techniques and procedures than those normally used in a car factory.
US President Donald Trump used analogies to the war economy to justify his attraction to the automotive industry as the country deals with an increasing number of coronavirus cases. He eventually used a 1950s defense production law to force one of GM's fans to be built.
A consortium of industrial companies – including PSA and the automotive supplier Valeo – has now been founded in France to produce "10,000 fans" by mid-May, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Tuesday.
Mercedes in turn asked its Formula 1 team, which was idle due to postponed or canceled Grand Prix races, to get to work.
The six-time world champion team built a less invasive breathing apparatus to reserve ventilators – which require breathing tubes and sedation – for the most affected patients.
The team says it could produce around 1,000 units a day with the help of six other UK-based F1 teams who have committed to building the equipment.
A version of the device that increases air and oxygen flow to the lungs and is often used to treat sleep apnea has been used in hospitals in Italy and China to help COVID-19 patients.
The "Project Pitlane" mission uses "the core competencies of the F1 industry: fast design, prototype production, testing and qualified assembly", says a declaration of Formula 1.
Depending on suppliers
However, some are skeptical about the entry of the automotive industry into the world of medical devices.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a nonprofit that was founded after the atomic bomb was created and is known for its symbolic “Doomsday Clock,” said in a recent article that automakers weren't best for assembling medicine equipment is suitable.
"Fans may be similar to pumps and air conditioners used in automobiles, but few automakers build their own – they buy them from specialized manufacturers," the group emphasized.
While automakers are currently underutilizing production capacity, they still rely on suppliers who are often overseas at a time when supply chains are almost at a standstill, their report said.
"Simple pictures of Ford assembly lines building World War II bombers can only get us as far as to solve today's ventilation problems," the group said.
But automakers say they are up to the task.
Renault has set up its "Techno Center" outside of Paris, its largest research and development center in France, to work on the development of a prototype using the latest equipment such as 3D printers.
Time is of the essence in the global race for the corona virus.
For Formula 1 and University College London engineers, it took less than 100 hours from the first meeting to the production of the first device, the team said.
This may be a typical lead time in motorsport, but not necessarily in other industries.
More news about the new corona virus can be found here.
What You Need to Know About Corona Virus.
Further information on COVID-19 is available from the DOH hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.
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