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Car brand-logos now adorn face masks and ventilators

Our Bureau | Updated on April 23, 2020 Published on April 23, 2020

Ferrari’s respirator valves and fittings for protective masks

Automobile companies are using their manufacturing expertise to make medical equipment; 3D-printing, car parts come in handy

Worldwide, parts of the production lines that once rolled out cars, luxury saloons, supercars and sports utility vehicles have been modified and are now being used to make medical supplies worldwide. In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and the rapid spread of the infection, has led to a huge shortfall in critical medical supplies at hospitals and in personal protection for frontline workers and the public.

With most of the automobile factories shut around the world, there is an unprecedented number of idle assembly lines.

While an automobile facility is a very complex operation and retooling many of the departments like the weld shop, paint shop and final assembly lines is not possible since they are incapable of being used for the manufacture of any small medical equipment, a few car makers have efficiently converted their 3D-printing, metal casting and plastic moulding capabilities to now manufacture medical equipment such as ventilators, artificial respirators and surgical masks. American electric vehicles brand Tesla has gone a step further and created prototypes of ventilators that actually use parts that are normally used in its vehicles such as the Model 3 and Model S.

Components like the infotainment screen, some suspension parts and computer sensors are being used along with wiring and other plastic parts required for an air-mixing and ventilator system for ailing patients. Tesla claims that using car parts that have been tested for reliability makes it easier and safer rather than if it was to try and rebuild an existing ventilator design for which its production system is probably not programmed to accommodate. Using regular car parts would also be a reiteration of the trust that the company has on the reliability of its cars. Other American car brands that are also involved in the manufacture of similar medical equipment are Ford and General Motors.

 

Ford is making respirators in partnership with 3M. And like Tesla, Ford is also using some parts from its cars, such as the seat fans from its F-150 pick-up. The company is also 3D-printing face shields for use by frontline hospital workers and police personnel. One of the countries that has been hit the most by the pandemic is Italy, where the novel Coronavirus has taken its toll on the healthcare system. The ageing population of the country and a hospital network that was unprepared for a crisis of this magnitude has meant a higher percentage of fatalities and patients on beds needing special attention. Italian luxury supercar brands Ferrari and Lamborghini have joined the fight against the disease and have put their expertise in 3D printing and small batch production to use.

The maker of hypercars like the Aventador and Huracan, for example, is converting departments of its super sports car production plant in Sant’Agata Bolognese so that it can produce surgical masks and protective plexiglass shields. The work is being carried out by personnel of the saddlery, the same employees who are involved in the stitching of leather seats and the interiors and specialty customization for Lamborghini cars; they now produce 1,000 masks a day. The medical shields are made using 3D printers within the carbon fiber production plant and the Research and Development department.

Late last week, the other Italian supercar maker joined in with its own contribution for the fight against the virus. Ferrari started to produce respirator valves and fittings for protective masks at its Maranello plant as one of its initiatives in support of health workers treating coronavirus patients. The department where car prototypes are usually built is producing these thermoplastic components using additive manufacturing technology. Ferrari has said that some valves have been developed by Mares, a diving equipment manufacturer, tailor-made to fit their masks so as to create emergency masks to assist patients suffering from respiratory failure. In addition, Ferrari is also assisting and collaborating with other companies in the manufacture of ventilators.

Ferrari and Lamborghini have joined the fight against coronavirus and have put their expertise in 3D printing and small batch production to use

 

There is some hope amongst the countries which are coming out of the lockdown in May that they will quickly bounce back and that economic activity will tick back to pre-lockdown levels. The Automobile industry, which has seen a complete shutdown of production and sales, is hoping to get its wheels up and running and expects to ramp up production steadily. Indian homegrown and multinational car brands have also contributed extensively both in kind and in terms of financial contributions to the fight against the virus.

In time, car makers would also hopefully gain from the experience that the pandemic emergency hurriedly thrust upon their manufacturing capabilities.

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Published on April 23, 2020
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