Ford making masks to protect workers against COVID-19

By Nick Carey

DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co said on Monday it is producing face masks at a Michigan plant to protect its workers from the coronavirus pandemic and is seeking to have those masks certified for medical use.

The automaker said the masks are being made at its Van Dyke transmission plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, and were developed in collaboration with the United Auto Workers union.

Ford executive Adrian Price said Ford will need a "surge" of protective equipment for employees as it restarts operations, which the company has said it plans to do during the current quarter. Long-term, however, Ford does not intend to stay in the business of producing medical equipment or competing with incumbent suppliers such as 3M, Ford Vice President Jim Baumbick said during a conference call on Monday.

Ford also said it is using its high-volume manufacturing and supply chain capability to help Thermo Fisher Scientific to increase production of COVID-19 collection kits, using plastic bottles suitable for field testing.

The automaker said it is also working with supplier Joyson Safety Systems to manufacture reusable gowns from airbag materials.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker had previously announced that it will make air-purifying respirators in consultation with 3M Co. Ford said production of those respirators will start on Tuesday at a plant near Flat Rock, Michigan.

Demand for respirators and other medical equipment is "greatly exceeding supply," 3M executive Mike Kesti said during a conference call on Monday.

(Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Dan Grebler)