IndyCar partner General Motors switches from cars to medical equipment

Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo for General Motors
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At a time where the world is fighting an invisible foe, the COVID-19 virus, IndyCar’s partners are heavily involved in the fight.

One of the IndyCar Series’ key partners is General Motors through its Chevrolet brand. The company’s IndyCar effort includes Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, Arrow McLaren Racing SP, AJ Foyt Racing, Juncos, Carlin, Dreyer & Reinbold and DragonSpeed.

Chevrolet is also the official truck and official pace car of the IndyCar Series. Along with Honda, it is one of two engine manufacturers in the high-speed, open-wheel racing series.

Just up US 31, about 60 miles north from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is the industrial city of Kokomo, Indiana. General Motors has a large manufacturing facility in Kokomo. Many of its employees are longtime IndyCar fans who attend the Indianapolis 500 on a regular basis.

Others watch USAC racing at nearby Kokomo Speedway, a quarter-mile dirt track that has been in existence since 1947. It has a regular Sunday night show that includes midget, sprints, late model and ARCA stock cars.

The General Motors manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, where GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce Ventec VOCSN critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors)

General Motors has joined the fight against COVID-19 by transitioning its Kokomo manufacturing facility into a ventilator factory. The GM facility is producing medical ventilators, a critical life-saving device for stricken patients in Intensive Care Units (ICU) at hospitals around the world. Another GM facility in Warren, Michigan is manufacturing face masks to protect medical workers and other essential care givers in the battle against the virus.

GM and Ventec Life Systems joined forces to build 30,000 ventilators for the United States Department of Health and Human Services. GM was able to retool its manufacturing plant from auto production to ventilators in record time. Because GM has existing relationships with suppliers, the company located hundreds of parts for ventilator production in just over one week.

More than 1,000 GM workers are involved in the ventilator project to build, supply and deliver the Ventec V+Pro ventilators. The V+Pro is a portable unit that can run on battery power, making them ideal for field hospitals and temporary ICUs.

They are designed for critical care of seriously ill patients and are being delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile beginning this month.

Read IMSA Team joins effort here.

The collaborative effort will ship more than 600 ventilators this month with almost half of the order filled by the end of June. The full order will be completed by the end of August.

General Motors will build more units after August, if needed.

“Thousands of men and women at GM, Ventec, our suppliers and the Kokomo community have rallied to support their neighbors and the medical professionals on the front lines of this pandemic,” GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said. “Everyone wants to help turn the tide and save lives. It is inspiring and humbling to see the passion and commitment people have put into this work.”

In Warren, Michigan, GM converted its Warren, Michigan facility in less than seven days to produce masks. It created an ISO Class 8-equivalent cleanroom where workers created up to 50,000 masks per day. It intends to produce 1.5 million masks each month.

GM and its automotive suppliers have created the three layers of fabric in the masks. That same fabric is used as sound-deadening insulation for doors, trunks and headliners.

Workers prepare to build ventilators at the GM manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana, Tuesday, April 7, 2020, where GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce Ventec critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors) 

Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore said his community is more than ready to do its part.

“At this critical moment in our country’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kokomo community applauds GM and Ventec leadership for joining the fight by producing much-needed medical ventilators here in their Kokomo facilities,” Moore said. “At the same time, they have placed their trust in our community and the incredible Kokomo-area workforce. Kokomo is deeply honored to be a part of this extraordinary endeavor in these extraordinary times.”

To help protect people working at the Kokomo plant, extensive screening, cleaning and other CDC-recommended procedures were instituted.

Everyone arriving for work was required to sanitize their hands immediately upon arrival and have their temperature checked with a non-contact thermometer before entering the job site. Employees worked their shift wearing medical-grade protective masks, including masks produced at GM’s Warren, Michigan facility.

There were 30-minute intervals between shifts to allow employees to clean their workstations when they arrive and again before they leave. Also, signage was posted throughout the facility reminding team members to practice social distancing. Each workstation was manned by one person, and each workstation will be spaced at least six feet apart. Cleaning crews will clean and sanitize common touch surfaces such as door handles, as well as common areas, at least three times per shift.

Each shift enters and exits through a different door to minimize social contact.

The unprecedented teamwork that has allowed ventilator production in Kokomo to move forward so quickly began with a March 17 phone call between General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and representatives of StopTheSpread.Org, who suggested GM work with Ventec.

By Friday, March 20, GM engaged its global supply base and within 72 hours, they had developed plans to source 100 percent of the necessary parts. The UAW’s national and local leadership embraced the project and on Wednesday, March 25, crews began preparing the Kokomo site for production.

General Motors President Mark Reuss (left) and GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra tour the GM manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana, Tuesday, April 14, 2020. GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce VOCSN critical care ventilators at the facility in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors)

Mass production begins in mid-April. Production will quickly scale up to 10,000 critical care ventilators or more per month.

On Sunday, April 19, GM has increased its involvement. With ventilators and face masks in production, GM is expanding its manufacturing of personal protective equipment, including latex-free face shields, protective gowns and aerosol boxes. All of these supplies are being donated.

“It’s amazing how much our employees have accomplished in such a short time,” said Mark Reuss, GM president. “People from all corners of the company have really stepped up to help, and to lend their talents, time and energy to battle coronavirus.”

General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra tours the GM manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana, Tuesday, April 14, 2020. GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce VOCSN critical care ventilators at the facility in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors)

 

Ventec Life Systems staff show nursing staff at Franciscan Health Olympia Fields Hospital how to operate VOCSN critical care respirators Friday, April 17, 2020 in Olympia Fields, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Franciscan received the first shipment of ventilators produced by General Motors and Ventec in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo for General Motors)

 

Auto racing and the automotive industry have a long history of supporting major efforts during a time of crisis. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was shut down from 1942 through 1945 and was used as a military depot. The auto industry produced military equipment in both World War I and World War II.

No passenger cars were manufactured in GM facilities from February 10, 1942 until September 9, 1945 – one week after World War II concluded with Japan’s surrender.

From 1942-45, the American auto industry produced 119 million artillery shells, 39 million cartridge cases, 206,000 aircraft engines, 13,000 Navy fighter planes and torpedo bombers, 97,000 aircraft propellers, 301,000 aircraft gyrocompasses, 38,000 tanks and tank destroyers, 854,000 trucks, 190,000 cannons, 1.9 million machine guns and submachine guns, 3.1 million carbines, 3.8 million electric motors, 11 million fuses, 360 million roller and ball bearings, 198,000 diesel engines and more.

This battle is different, however. Instead of building equipment that kills, GM is producing equipment that will save lives. That includes the Ventec V+Pro ventilator and the much-needed medical masks.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Workers pack the first VOCSN critical care ventilators for shipping Thursday, April 16, 2020, from the General Motors manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana. GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce the ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ventilators begin shipping tonight. (Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors)