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Automotive firms contribute AM capabilities to Covid-19 effort

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Ford operators assemble medical face shields. (Image: Ford Motor Company).

Toyota, Ford, Daimler and Mercedes have all committed to using additive manufacturing to produce medical components that are urgently needed as a result of the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Toyota Motor North America has begun mass-producing 3D-printed face shields this week, with plans to distribute the first batch to MD Anderson in Houston, UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and other hospitals in Indiana, Kentucky and Michigan.

The firm is also poised to produce other types of protective mask, and is currently seeking partners for filters. In addition it is finalising agreements to begin working with at least two companies that produce ventilators and respirators to help increase their capacity.

Toyota has also made significant donations of supplies – including masks, safety glasses, shoe/boot covers, gloves, blankets, and cotton swabs – to hospitals, emergency management teams, and first responders.

Ford also plans to mass-assemble more than 100,000 face shields per week, and will be leveraging its in-house 3D printing capabilities to produce additional components for use in personal protective equipment. In addition, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, the firm announced that it will also begin producing a third-party ventilator, with the goal to produce 50,000 units within 100 days and up to 30,000 a month thereafter. Ford's manufacturing capabilities will enable the production of the ventillator to be scaled quickly, while GE Healthcare will provide its clinical expertise and license a ventilator design from a private firm.

Mercedes-Benz, a subsidary of Daimler, has also offered its support with the production of medical equipment using 3D printing.

Jörg Burzer, a member of the firm's board of management of production and supply chain, said: 'With our highly competent team and years of experience in 3D printing technology, we are ready to make our contribution to the production of medical devices. To this end, we are also in contact with the state government of Baden-Württemberg. Our expertise and specialist knowledge is available for production; now it is up to the medical technology sector to contact us. Our 3D printers are definitely available.'

Mercedes-Benz' 3D printers are already used to produce up to 150,000 plastic and metal components every year via common processes such as selective laser melting (SLM), selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SLA) and fused deposition modelling (FDM). While this capacity is normally used for prototype construction and small-series production within the passenger car sector, this can now be fully wielded for medical purposes.

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