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GM BUILDING FACE MASKS FOR FRONTLINE WORKERS IN FIGHT AGAINST COVID-19

GM anticipates handing off the first 20,000 masks on April 8 and production to reach an estimated 1.5 million masks a month once full capacity is reached.

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General Motors is making face masks for essential service workers in response to the national supply shortage that has grown during the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

This rapid-response project to produce masks at scale was launched on Friday, March 20. Seven days later, the team had produced their first sample on the new production line. GM expects delivery its first 20,000 masks to frontline workers to take place on April 8.

The expediency of this project would not have been possible without help from GM’s global partners. What would have taken several months to plan and execute, GM’s face mask team accomplished 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.”  

THE CLOCK STARTS

It was 3 p.m. Friday, March 20, when the core team gathered for the first time.

“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,” Thom said.

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 seat belt and interior trim experts became highly adept in manufacturing face masks.”

The necessary raw materials — metal nose pieces, elastic straps and blown, non-woven fabric filter material — were obtained through GM’s existing supply chain. At the same time, GM collaborated with JR Automation in Holland, Michigan, and Esys Automation in Auburn Hills, Michigan, to design and build the custom machinery needed to assemble the masks.

Meanwhile, the ISO Class 8-equivalent cleanroom at GM’s manufacturing plant in Warren, Michigan, was selected as the project’s base of operations. About 31,000 square feet filled with existing equipment in the cleanroom was cleared to accommodate the mask production lines. New electrical service lines were also installed to power production equipment and assembly stations.

Once cleared and prepped, the production equipment and materials were delivered to the Warren facility. Crews then set about working nonstop to install the equipment and stage the production line. Each step in the production process was tested and examined for any and all opportunities to improve quality and speed.

Then, at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 27 — six days, 23 hours and 30 minutes from when the project was initiated — the first production-made mask rolled off the assembly line and was in the team’s hands.

“Not only did the team make their goal, but they over-delivered,” Thom said. “They actually beat our deadline, running the first mask through the equipment 30 minutes ahead of target. We’re excited because this means we’re even closer to being able to protect the health care teams who are working tirelessly to save lives.”

THE WORK CONTINUES

The projected production volume is just as aggressive as the project’s timeline. By Monday, March 30, more than 2,000 masks were produced by teams working through the weekend. These initial test samples will be used to ensure quality standards are met. Once these quality measures are completed, the teams expect to start producing masks for delivery early next week.

GM and the UAW will seek more than two dozen paid volunteers from Detroit-area plants to staff mask operations. In addition, GM has implemented a series of safety measures like physical distancing, enhanced on-site cleaning and pre-entry health screening to protect these team members.

The team expects to have 20,000 masks ready for delivery on Wednesday, April 8. Once the line is running at full speed, it will be able to produce up to 50,000 masks every day, or up to 1.5 million masks a month. GM is also currently developing a distribution plan for the masks, which includes using some of this important safety equipment to protect employees in critical GM operations.  

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