Day after day, Marcy Fisher thinks of her son’s fiancee working on the front lines as an ICU nurse at the University of Michigan hospital.
“It’s all very real,” Fisher said Sunday. “It’s very personal, and she’s just one person. Then you imagine the rest of the country and all of the other people doing the same thing she is. And that’s who we’re doing this for.”
Fisher, as director of global body exterior and interior engineering at Ford Motor Co., assumed a team leader role on the company’s face shield and respirator effort. Within two weeks of working around the clock on design and production, the team at Troy Design and Manufacturing in Plymouth actually produced their one millionth face shield over the weekend.
“What’s driving us is the unending demand on the front lines for this equipment from the hospitals and first responders all around the country and here in the Detroit area,” said Fisher from her Bloomfield Hills home. “I feel like there’s more desperation in their requests this week than even last week.”
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Ford executives issued a call to action March 19, after receiving an alert from the Mayo Clinic, and worked up a plan to address the personal protective equipment shortage.
Within hours, the automaker decided to pivot from building cars to manufacturing medical devices, setting into motion the first steps that would generate tens of thousands of protective face shields for doctors, nurses and first responders during the rapidly spreading pandemic.
On March 23, the first 1,000 face shields were made. By March 26, Ford would deliver thousands to Henry Ford Hospital, Beaumont, Detroit Receiving and the first responders who did so much to save lives after the 9/11 terrorist attacks — the New York Police Department and New York Fire Department.
Everything is handcrafted by paid volunteer UAW members who have agreed to work despite the industry’s production shutdown.
So, Ford went from 1,000 face shields to 1 million in 13 days.
On Saturday, the Ford-UAW team put “Eye of the Tiger” on the loudspeaker and cheered making their goal. Workers had done what no one could have imagined. And then they immediately shipped 30,000 face shields to New York.
“This is one of the greatest crises to threaten humanity in my lifetime,” said Adrian Price, director of global core engineering for vehicle manufacturing, a lead on Ford’s COVID-19 task force. “In times of crisis, it is incumbent upon every citizen to do what they can — whether it’s stay at home and socially isolate or leverage skills in different ways and help.”
He, too, was working non-stop on the project and spoke from home in Grosse Pointe Farms.
“These front line defenders, they go into war every day with only a mask as their shield and intubation pipes as their sword. They are the real heroes,” said Price, who usually overhauls auto plants to accommodate different manufacturing processes. “We are here to support them.”
At this point, the operation is creating 200,000 disposable face shields per day.
The face shields have a plastic protector — like a thicker version of a report cover that schoolkids would use when they hand in a term paper — and an elastic band around the head, making a shield against aerosols and splatter from getting into the eyes and mouth. The head gear is worn over other protective equipment.
Ford has assembled salaried and hourly workers who began the assembly process at one minute cycles and now build each face shield in less than 10 seconds, Price said. “That’s how we measure our rate of production of our cars and trucks. America’s bestselling F-150 comes out of facilities every minute. That’s how we measure performance, and how we make medical equipment.”
The rapid response team, he said, means when he requests engineering help on a specific element of the project, 150 engineers may volunteer within 8 minutes.
“Hopefully we’re making a difference,” Price said.
The team is working shifts seven days a week.
In New York, which has been a hot spot for weeks, at least seven police department members have died due to coronavirus or related complications. At least 1,619 uniformed officers and 2,002 civilian officers have tested positive, with 6,695 New York cops out sick, according to the New York Post. Detroit has lost police personnel, too, just like other communities.
UAW member Pat Tucker, 55, has worked 12-hour days for 13 days in a row making face shields. She starts her shift at 6 a.m. and talked with the Free Press just after getting home to Roseville on Sunday night,
“We started out doing 30,000 and then 40,000 and now we have been doing over 200,000 a day,” she said. “We’re doing it all by hand.”
Even when Tucker is asleep, she is focused on the intensity of the project. “You want to hear something really funny? I woke up the other morning mad. My old man asked, ‘Why are you are mad?’ I said, ‘We only did 19 boxes.’ “
Thing is, each team tries to fill 50 boxes a day. She failed to make her goal in her dream.
“They brought in 90,000 face shields today and we ran through them like nothing,” Tucker said. “Between days and nights, we blew through so fast. We’re all getting really good at it. When you first sit down, you get into your routine and keep going faster and faster, like you’re in a trance. I worked 80 hours this week. They’re not making us stay. But me, myself, I like working every minute they’ll let me. Tomorrow I have to leave early … and get some laundry done.”
From Ford with Love
Jim Farley, chief operating officer at Ford, told the Free Press Sunday night, “These are unprecedented times in our industry. Our opportunity as leaders is to manage the COVID crisis and build a brighter future.”
And New York officials, who have a long-established relationship with Ford through use of vehicles including the popular Police Interceptor, have responded with gratitude.
“During difficult times, Americans pull together to solve tough problems — it’s part of who we are. New York City is on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are deeply grateful for the resources and support we are receiving from people across the country,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in a message received by Ford on Sunday. “We thank the members of the UAW and Ford for their support.”