DETROIT — General Motors announced plans to produce face masks at a massive scale this month as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads throughout the United States.
The automaker launched a rapid-response project to produce masks on Friday, March 20, and a week later, they had produced the first sample. By next week, GM said it expects to deliver its first 20,000 face masks.
After, GM said it will produce an estimated 1.5 million masks per month at full capacity.
More than 30 engineers, designers, buyers, and manufacturing team members were asked to help with product development.
“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 first people we called were those who work with fabric vehicle components,” said Karsten Garbe, GM plant director, Global Pre-Production
Within a few days, the seat belt and interior trim teams became experts in face masks.
They sourced raw materials from GM supply chain, including metal nose pieces, elastic straps and blown, non-woven fabric filter material. Simultaneously, GM collaborated with JR Automation in Holland, Michigan and Esys Automation in Auburn Hills to design and build the custom machinery needed to assemble the masks.
They are being producted at the ISO Class 8-equivalent cleanroom at the GM manufacturing plant in Warren.
The team cleared approximately 31,000 square feet to accommodate the mask production lines and crews installed new electrical service lines. Crews then worked around the clock to install equipment and stage the production line, testing each step.
At 2:30 p.m. on Friday, March 27, the project team had their first production-made mask in their hands.
“Not only did the team make their goal, but they over-delivered,” said Thom. “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 healthcare teams who are working tirelessly to save lives.”