Ford Southern Africa has commence manufacturing of face shields at its Silverton vehicle assembly plant in Tshwane for medical staff and other essential personnel fighting to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.
Previously, Ford stated it had no plans to produce medical equipment, suspended vehicle production at Silverton just under two weeks ago, at the start of the national lockdown. The company had already announced a temporary shutdown because of collapsing demand in export markets which account for more than half of Silverton’s production.
“With SA on lockdown and our plant not operating at the moment, we felt it was essential to use our manufacturing capacity and expertise to contribute to the efforts of the South African government, private healthcare institutions and humanitarian organisations to contain the spread of COVID-19, and to care for those infected with the virus,” said Ockert Berry, Head, Ford operations.
Ford has started producing a first batch of 57,000 face shields, which protect the wearer’s eyes, nose and mouth. It hopes eventually to manufacture at least 500,000. To do this, however, it says it will need support from components suppliers and other partners. Volkswagen SA said last week it also hoped to produce face shields.
“With the face shields in critically short supply, we are dedicating our resources and manpower to produce the face shields as quickly as possible,” Berry explains. “We are urgently engaging with our component suppliers and business partners, and inviting them to come on board and assist us with raising funds for this important project.
The World Health Organization and the South African Department of Health have deemed these face shields, along with the N95 face masks which can be worn under the shield, a crucial part of personal protective equipment for medical personnel who are at the greatest risk of exposure to the coronavirus. They will also be made available to the police, military and those responsible for transporting workers in the essential services industries.
“The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented, and is having a dramatic impact on the health of communities around the world while placing a massive strain on the medical resources of even the most advanced countries,” states Ockert Berry, VP Operations at FMCSA.
South Africa’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, commended Ford for its contribution: “Thank you for your offer to donate face shields which can be used in counteracting the spread of COVID-19. It is encouraging to see the efforts of Ford Motor Company not only here in South Africa, but globally as well.”
“We welcome any contributions from individuals and companies across South Africa to support this initiative, whether it’s R10, R10 000 or R100 000, every little bit counts,” Berry says. “Our goal is to produce at least 500 000 face shields, and possibly even more, so that we can assist the healthcare efforts across the country and even beyond our borders if necessary.”
Already, Trek Plastics has begun supplying the medical-grade materials to Ford at a discounted rate, with a capacity for producing 15 000 kits per day. Additionally, Corruseal Group has committed to supplying boxes at no cost for packaging the face shields, and Creative Graphics International has donated materials.
Two of Ford’s transport service providers, Trans-Atlantic Logistics and DSV, have agreed to waive the transport costs to help with distribution to hospitals, clinics and other locations countrywide. Other suppliers that have contributed thus far include Feltex Automotive and Aeroklas Duys for the foam materials, and Lithotec for the labels.
The shields, which wrap around the user’s face, are being produced to global health standards, using a clear polyethylene shield, polyurethane foam padding and an elastic latex fabric headband to keep it in place. Each unit is packaged with clear instructions on how to wear the shield correctly, along with cleaning and storage guidelines. They are designed to be reusable, and sanitized after each use.
Ford employees involved in the production process work according to strict COVID-19 health and personal hygiene guidelines. All staff are screened regularly for coronavirus symptoms, and are required to wear latex gloves, face masks and the face shields, and maintain appropriate social distancing at all times.
“It’s in periods of crisis, such as what we’re experiencing right now across the world with the COVID-19 pandemic, that the extraordinary efforts of people that are committed to making a difference in their communities really stands out,” says Neale Hill, MD of FMCSA.
“We commend the remarkable efforts of every individual at the front-line of the battle against the coronavirus, as well as each company and organisation that is helping to contain its spread, tend to the sick and support the nation with the multitude of essential services during these challenging times,” Hill adds. “We also value the support of every person that is able to contribute to the success of this project.”
All contributions will exclusively be used to purchase the kits for the face shields. Ford is covering all the labour costs for assembly and packaging, and supplier companies are assisting with materials, boxes and other packaging materials, as well as transport.
Individuals and companies wishing to contribute to this initiative can send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, using the reference: Ford SA COVID-19. The relevant banking details will be supplied.
Ford is also working with South Africa’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, as well as the Department of Health, on this unique transition of its manufacturing operations to produce the face shields.
“Minister Ebrahim Patel has been particularly supportive of our commitment to produce the face shields at the Silverton plant during this public health emergency, and is pleased that we are using Ford’s local employees and suppliers to produce the shields,” says Dhiren Vanmali, Ford’s Executive Director of Government Affairs, Africa.
“We are working closely with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, which is liaising with the Department of Health, in identifying the essential services recipients of these face shields, and facilitating the distribution of the products wherever they are required across the country,” he adds.
In the US, Ford Motor Company is targeting the production of more than 1-million face shields per week, and has already produced over 1.2-million units since the project commenced just over two weeks ago.
Renai Moothilal, Director of the National Association of Automotive Component and Allied Manufacturers, says several member companies are part of a project to produce medical ventilators, working with partners that include the Industrial Development Corporation, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and medical experts.
“More than 20 members are directly involved or on standby to aid production. High-volume production, assuming all approvals fall into place, can possibly happen within a month,” said Moothilal.
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