Ventilators began rolling out of the Kokomo General Motors Components Holdings plant Tuesday to support coronavirus patients around the country, just three weeks after the company started retooling the facility for the project.
Local employees, including members of United Auto Workers Local 292, which represents the plant, are now mass producing Ventec Life Systems’ critical care ventilators and plan to ship out more than 600 of the machines this month.
The company is set to produce 30,000 ventilators from inside the Kokomo plant, after signing a $489.4 million contract with the Department of Health and Human Services.
The move to fire up mass production Tuesday marks a lightning-fast turnaround for GM and the Kokomo facility.
In less than a month, the company has transformed the factory, shipped in all the parts required to make the ventilators and implemented extensive health and safety protocols in the workplace. GM also continues to hire from the community to create a workforce of more than 1,000 people.
GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said it was “inspiring and humbling to see the passion and commitment people have put into this work.”
“Thousands of men and women at GM, Ventec, our suppliers and the Kokomo community have rallied to support their neighbors and the medical professionals on the front lines of this pandemic,” she said in a release. “Everyone wants to help turn the tide and save lives.”
Barra said throughout the effort, the company had strong support from UAW leadership, including the UAW-GM department and UAW Local 292, as well as community groups, elected officials in Kokomo, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy.
Peter Navarro, White House assistant to the president, said ventilators are now rolling off the assembly line inside the Kokomo plant “as fast as tanks once did in an earlier World War,” and praised the company for its quick work to produce the machines.
“GM’s rapid mobilization of America’s manufacturing might in defense of our country is a proud salute to the ingenuity of its engineers, the true grit of its UAW workers on the line, and America’s doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals fighting for our lives at the front lines,” he said in a release.
Navarro said the first batch of ventilators will be deployed to hospitals in Gary and Chicago.
Ventec Life Systems CEO Chris Kiple said until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, the critical care ventilators being made in Kokomo will give medical professionals the tools they need to fight the pandemic and treat patients.
“This partnership is an historic effort and a great reminder of what can be accomplished with the power of American innovation and American manufacturing skill uniting together around a singular mission to save lives,” he said in a release.
More than 600 ventilators will be shipped from Kokomo this month, and almost half the 30,000 order will be filled by the end of June. The full order will be completed by the end of August. GM said it has the capacity to build more ventilators after August if needed.