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Wednesday, 01 April 2020 18:25

GM to Make Face Masks for Front Line Workers


As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, it created a critical shortage of face masks.

To help protect workers in essential services across the country, GM launched a rapid-response project to produce masks at scale March 20. On March 27, the team had produced their first sample on the new production line.


By next week, GM expects to deliver its first 20,000 masks to front line workers.


Without help from GM’s partners around the globe, the project would have taken several months to plan and execute. The team working on GM’s face mask project accomplished the task in just one week.


“Our team began looking at ways we could quickly utilize our talents and resources to help in the shared fight against COVID-19,” said Peter Thom, GM vice president, global manufacturing engineering. “Working around the clock, our team rallied with incredible passion and focus to come up with a plan to produce masks that will help protect the women and men on the front lines of this crisis.”


At 3 p.m. March 20, the core team assembled for the first time, kicking off the project and starting the timer.


“Because we wanted to move fast, the team set an incredibly aggressive goal: To have the production line up and running tests within a week,” said Thom.


More than 30 engineers, designers, buyers and members of the manufacturing team were asked to help with product development, sourcing materials and equipment and planning the production process.


“The first people we called were those who work with fabric vehicle components,” said Karsten Garbe, GM plant director, global pre-production operations. “In a few days, the company’s seatbelt and interior trim experts became experts in manufacturing face masks.”


The team sourced the necessary raw materials by leveraging GM’s existing supply chain. These materials include metal nose pieces, elastic straps and blown, non-woven fabric filter material.


Simultaneously, GM collaborated with JR Automation in Holland, MI, and Esys Automation in Auburn Hills, MI, to design and build the custom machinery needed to assemble the masks.


For the project, the team selected the ISO Class 8-equivalent cleanroom at GM’s manufacturing plant in Warren, MI. Work began at the Warren facility by removing existing equipment from the cleanroom. The team cleared approximately 31,000 square feet to accommodate the mask production lines. Crews then installed new electrical service lines to power the production equipment and assembly stations.


With the site cleared and prepped, production equipment and materials were then delivered to the Warren facility. Crews worked around the clock to install equipment and stage the production line. The team then tested each step in the production process, looking for opportunities to improve quality and production speed.

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