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Two GM plants will build ventilators, masks to help fight COVID-19 pandemic

A plant in Indiana will build the ventilators, while a previously closed plant in Michigan will manufacture surgical masks.

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GM/Ventec ventilators

These machines will come from Indiana.

General Motors
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General Motors was the first US automaker to officially lend a hand in the coronavirus pandemic after it announced a partnership with Ventec to expedite production of ventilators. Now GM's going further, with plans to build the breathing machines in house.

On March 27, the automaker said it's already started retooling its plant in Kokomo, Indiana, to build ventilators in partnership with Ventec. Previously, the efforts only went as far as GM lending purchasing, logistics and manufacturing expertise to the company. The shift to build the machines in house is a big one, but it comes as COVID-19, which the coronavirus causes, continues to spread in the US.

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With retooling and planning underway, GM plans to call back 1,000 UAW workers to produce the ventilators at the Indiana facility. The plant typically manufactures various components for GM vehicles and normally employs 274 hourly workers, according to GM.

GM Warren mask production prep

A worker finishes sterilizing the previously shuttered Warren plant for mask production.

General Motors

The automaker said it expects to deliver the first ventilators next month, with the ability to produce 10,000-plus per month as production ramps up. The entire process happened at lightning pace, as GM and Ventec combed the automaker's supply base for 700 readily available components to build the ventilators at scale.

While work moves forward in Indiana, GM has taken a second step. It will reopen its plant in Warren, Michigan, to build Level 1 surgical masks for health care workers. The particular plant closed its doors in 2019 and previously built transmissions.

The machinery needed to produce the masks was delivered on March 26 and production starts this week; GM says it will make 50,000 masks per day within two weeks, with the potential to increase output to 100,000 masks per day.

Ford has also joined forces with the medical community and plans to build ventilators through a partnership with GE. In addition, the automaker started making face shields and has plans to produce a new respirator design.

First published March 27.