How Ford Will Use F-150 Seat Fans to Build Emergency Respirators

They were designed to cool your butt, but now they can save lives.

Amidst the throes of uncertainty caused by COVID-19, large-scale manufacturers are pooling together to help fight the virus’ spread in as many ways possible. General Motors, for example, confirmed last week that it’s soon to collaborate with Ventec to supply ventilators for over-stressed healthcare facilities, and now, another major player is joining the fray. Ford Motor Company confirmed Tuesday that it will partner with 3M and General Electric to produce personal protective equipment such as respirators for healthcare workers, as well as ventilators for coronavirus patients. To do so quickly, it has identified existing parts that can be used for medical applications, such as fans from the Ford F-150’s ventilated seats.

Ford is poised to move quickly as hospitals nationwide are currently facing a massive Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortage. These fans and other parts from the F-150’s seat cooling system—you know, the little blowers that keep your butt cool on a hot summer day—can be used to build respirators for hospital workers. Parts that aren’t readily available for these new devices can be expedited thanks to the automaker’s strong ability to 3D-print a large number in a hurry. Sketches released by the Blue Oval depict how some of these parts can come together to build individual respirator units.

Standard battery packs from rechargeable tools will also be utilized, allowing users to run the respirator for up to eight hours, giving healthcare personnel more flexibility to tackle their challenging missions. 3M’s HEPA air filters may be used in the respirators, which will help filter airborne materials like saliva droplets.

Ford is looking into how the respirators might be produced in its Michigan factories, which would restore union jobs and bolster 3M’s production capacity by as much as 10 times. Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett appeared on The Today Show to tout the partnership and said in a statement that “it’s crucial that we mobilize all resources to protect lives and defeat this disease, and I’m incredibly grateful to Ford and their employees for this partnership.”

Partnerships like Ford’s, as well as the aforementioned General Motors initiative, could become more common as multiple automakers explore possibilities of producing relevant medical equipment. Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) is among those currently considering the production shift, along with Volkswagen in Europe. 

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