By Dan Kish and Mary Hutzler
During World War II, American industrial giants retooled their operations to make the United States the “Arsenal of Democracy.” It was a Herculean effort of deeds performed and sacrifices made by what historians and economists have dubbed the greatest generation.
On Thursday, April 2, in response to President Trump’s call to arms against the coronavirus, America is once again flexing its industrial muscle to answer that call and produce life-saving equipment.
Ford, Tesla, General Motors, and Fiat Chrysler are among those that stand out.
For Ford, this is nothing new. The company has manufactured medical equipment in the past, including portable incubators to prevent infant deaths in rural areas in the early 1940s, and ventilators, then known as iron lungs, during the 1948 polio epidemic. Tesla is reopening its Buffalo factory to produce ventilators for residents in New York City. GM is exploring building ventilators for Ventec Life Systems Inc., at one of its auto-parts plants in Indiana. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is planning to produce 1 million masks per month at one of its plants in China to donate to first responders and health care providers in the United States.
Ford is working with 3M Company, a manufacturing giant best known for its common adhesive products, to accelerate production of respirators using off-the-shelf parts where possible, including fans from the Ford F-150 pickup’s cooled seats and 3M air filters. United Auto Workers members are assembling more than 100,000 plastic face shields a week and Ford is assisting the health care unit of General Electric to produce ventilators that hospitals desperately need for coronavirus patients. Ford’s project, nicknamed Project Apollo after the Apollo 13 spacecraft rescue mission, will help GE and 3M scale their existing efforts to provide critical products to hospitals to save lives during the virus’ outbreak.
While these automakers have closed their auto assembly lines to keep their employees from catching and spreading the coronavirus, they are using other auto facilities and safety equipment to manufacture medical equipment that is in short supply at a time of desperate national need.
Of course, none of this is possible without energy. The medical equipment is manufactured from plastic components made from natural gas and oil feedstocks, and the transportation sector relies on gasoline and diesel to transport supplies to the factories for assemblage.
Without the petroleum and natural gas products to make the plastic components and to transport the supplies to factories and hospitals, these manufacturers could not help contain the coronavirus outbreak. America’s status as the number one oil and gas producer in the world is a distinct positive benefit to our nation’s strength and the health of all Americans, just as our energy resources fueled the furnaces that built the arms during World War II. Now, as during World War II, Americans benefit from the fruits of these American companies.
Americans are blessed to have industrial giants and ample energy of all kinds during this crisis. The automakers are leveraging their engineering, logistics and manufacturing expertise to help boost production of ventilators, respirators, and other needed equipment to save lives and combat the coronavirus. One can lose sight of the necessary relationships to make such efforts work. It takes coordination, not just from the automakers and their suppliers, but from the folks delivering the supplies, too. Behind all these end products is the energy sector that is helping to produce the plastic components of the medical devices and the fuel needed to transport them to the manufacturing facilities and the final product to hospitals and medical centers.
Kish and Hutzler are distinguished Senior Fellows at the Institute for Energy Research.