New Model: The Ventilator 100?
Car sales are slumping in Europe, so what’s a car company to do? Maybe it should switch to building medical ventilators.
That’s the suggestion of the British government, anyway.
The idea isn’t completely crazy. Respiratory ventilators are in very strong demand worldwide these days to treat patients with acute COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
Demand for the machines will only go up this year as the virus spreads. And if pundits are correct in theorizing that a new variant of the virus might be spawned next year, there just might be a long-lived market out there.
Shades of WW II
Converting factories in a crisis harkens to the U.S. auto industry’s role in World War II. Carmakers quickly shifted from building cars to churning out munitions (GM), planes (Ford), tanks (Chrysler) and yes, Jeeps (Willys-Overland).
Well, it does have wheels and a center-stack display screen (Image: Puritan Bennett)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he has been talking up the idea of ventilator production with several carmakers and dozens of other manufacturers that are skilled in making precision devices.
He also has been pointing out that Britain’s own National Health Service would be a built-in market and that global demand already outstrips existing production capacity.
Ford, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover and PSA—all with factories in the U.K.—confirm to Reuters that they have been approached about the project. Jet engine maker Rolls-Royce says it has been contacted too.
Johnson is urging companies to jump in wherever they feel comfortable: design, engineering, assembly, procurement, shipping, or perhaps all the above.
Just how this could be pulled off isn’t entirely clear, particularly regarding the electronics involved and the medical certification that would be required for these sophisticated life-critical machines.
But then, nobody thought Ford could learn how to make four-engine B-24 bombers at a rate of one per hour as it eventually did.
Certainly the U.K. could invoke wartime powers to speed up the manufacturing end of such a project. Whether the front-end work could be completed quickly enough to help out with the current pandemic is an open question.
Nice thought, though.
Several years back, one of the authors visited a major North American assembly plant engaged in the launch of a new vehicle program. A "ramp-up" schedule was prominently displayed on a bulletin board deep in the heart of the plant. The schedule indicated that the day of the visit was the same day the plant was originally planned to achieve full capacity production of its new product. Yet the plant was actually producing only a few units an hour! The assembly plant's tardiness is certainly not uncommon, but did contribute to our interest in the wide range in vehicle launch performance across major vehicle firms.
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