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SPE Honors Automotive Innovators Driving Pandemic Response

The 50th annual Automotive Innovation Awards program includes a new category — Industry Solutions for COVID-19. Here are the finalists.

Norbert Sparrow

November 2, 2021

6 Min Read
Critical care ventilators assembled at GM plant
GM and Ventec Life Systems partnered to produce critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.Image: General Motors

The 50th annual Automotive Innovation Awards, organized by the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), includes a new category this year — Industry Solutions for COVID-19.

In the early days of the pandemic, carmakers stepped up — some taking a quasi wartime footing — to produce personal protective equipment, ventilators, and various medical parts that were in short supply. Industry experts and a blue ribbon judging panel selected 10 finalists worthy of recognition in this category. The winners of this and numerous other categories more directly related to automotive innovation will be announced during a gala presentation on Nov. 10, 2021, in Livonia, MI. Here's more information about the event in case you are interested in attending.

PlasticsToday will report on the winners following the gala next week. In the meantime, here are the finalists in the COVID-19 category along with a description of their achievements provided by SPE.

Ventilator Main Chassis Production

OEM Make & Model: 2020 General Motors Co./Ventec Life Systems V+Pro Emergency Ventilator

Tier Supplier and Processor: HiTech Mold & Engineering Inc.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Sabic/HiTech Mold & Engineering Inc.

Material: Lexan 500R 10% GF PC

Process: Injection molding and threaded insert assembly 

In less than 18 days, the team sourced materials, built tooling, brought dimensional quality into spec, automated installation of 48 brass insert nuts (verified by vision systems), converted a manufacturing facility, trained a workforce, and scaled up production of tight-tolerance ventilator chassis components from thousands/year to thousands/week. Eventually, 30,000 parts were delivered over 154 days. Whereas the previous supplier had struggled to meet accuracy, FTQ was raised to 98.7 at faster production times.

Emergency Ventilator

OEM Make & Model: 2020 General Motors Co./Ventec Life Systems V+Pro Emergency Ventilator

Tier Supplier/Processor: Cascadia Custom Molding/West Michigan Molding Inc.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Avient Corp./Proper Group International Inc.

Material: Versollan OM1262NX-1 TPE

Process: Injection molding

The team developed a unique TPE offering modified flow, high adhesion to a PC/ABS substrate, and chemical resistance, and shipped it within 24 hours. High-cavitation tooling was rapidly produced to ensure sufficient supply. A robust supply chain was established that met demand throughout 2020.

Warpage Correction in Ventilator O2 Bracket

OEM Make & Model: 2020 General Motors Co./Ventec Life Systems V+Pro Emergency Ventilator

Tier Supplier and Processor: PTI Engineered Plastics

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Victrex PLC /PTI Engineered Plastics

Material: Vitrex 450FC30 PEEK

Process: Injection molding

In less than one week, the PEEK resin was fully characterized for CAE material cards, and tooling for a key ventilator component was redesigned using mold morphing/windage techniques to address warpage issues that had previously required post-mold fixturing and machining. New tooling was produced and first parts were shot nine days later, allowing the team to hold extremely tight tolerances without post-mold countermeasures. This enabled production to be scaled from thousands/year to thousands/week to meet high demand. Costs were reduced 30 to 40% by eliminating post-mold machining.

Ventilator Diaphragm

OEM Make & Model: 2020 Ventec Life Systems V+Pro Emergency Ventilator

Tier Supplier/Processor: Ventec Life Systems/Lumenflow Corp.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Wacker Chemical Corp./2K Tool 

Material: Elastosil LR 30003/50 silicone rubber

Process: Liquid silicone injection molding

The team used its automotive skill set to retrofit processing equipment to switch from optical-grade silicone to conventional liquid silicone rubber, solve a void issue, and build new tooling in just 19 days. Production of a critical ventilator diaphragm was ramped up from 1,000/year to 4,000/week. 

Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR)

OEM Make & Model: 2020 Ford Motor Co. Limited-Use PAPR

Tier Supplier/Processor: Ford Motor Co./Denso Corp.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Asahi Kasei America Inc., Celanese/3Dimensional Services, Protolabs

Material: PPTD40, POM Asahi P-40TC-1102 NT101, Celanese M90 CF2001 PolyPro, POM

Process: Injection molding

The team produced the first all-plastic PAPR, personal protective equipment used by medical workers, converting previously metal components to plastic to reduce mass and costs and improve user comfort. The lighter, more-efficient design improved battery life, enabling workers to complete a 12-hour shift without needing to recharge the battery. NIOSH certification was achieved in just three days on the first try. Production was increased to 8,500 units/week from the 650/week the previous supplier achieved. All profits from sales were donated to COVID-19 relief funds, and four patents are pending on the unit.

United Autoworkers volunteers have assembled more than 10,000 PAPRs at Ford’s Vreeland, MI, facility.

Flexible Breathing Tube for Powered Air-Purifying Respirator (PAPR) 

OEM Make & Model: 2021 Ford Motor Co. Powered Air Purifying Respirator

Tier Supplier/Processor: TI Fluids Systems/Flexaust

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Celanese, AT Polymers, TechmerPM, INEOS Styrolution Group GmbH, DuPont/not available

Material: EVA, LDPE, PE,  ABS, PA6/6

Process: Thermoforming and injection molding

To meet NIOSH certification requirements, the team used automotive tools to deliver on all project objectives in less than 30 days. A new breathing tube design was developed, where one size fits bodies ranging from the fifth percentile female to 95th percentile male in a variety of postures. The design features robust quick connects and offers 25% greater airflow yet consumes 24% less current for extended battery life. It also is lighter and 8 dB quieter. The team delivered 42,000 breathing tubes during the program.

PPE Production through #TyvekTogether and Project Airbridge

OEM Make & Model: Not applicable

Tier Supplier and Processor: Not applicable

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: DuPont/not applicable

Material: Tyvek

Process: Not applicable

Two different programs — Operation Airbridge and #TyvekTogether — dramatically increased production capacity for hospital gowns and coveralls for healthcare workers and first responders. Additionally, a new fabric was formulated in just three weeks to optimize utilization and increase downstream production. Idle capacity and resources at 15 US-based partners were used. In total, the team produced and shipped 17.6 million garments to replenish the National Stockpile.

Multi-Use Isolation Gown

OEM Make & Model: 2020 Ford Motor Co. isolation gown

Tier Supplier/Processor: Joyson, Windsor/not applicable

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Highland Industries, Aunde/not applicable

Material: Nylon 6,6, polyester

Process: Weaving, coating, sewing

Responding to the scarcity of PPE early in the pandemic, the team repurposed airbag and seat-trim materials and used idle cut and sew facilities to produce washable isolation gowns for frontline workers. Two different fabrics were developed and approved in less than two weeks — PA6/6 with silicone coating and PET with paraffin/C6 fluorocarbon coating — and gown designs were modified to prevent sleeves from riding up when workers were gloved. A total of 1.32 million gowns have been shipped to date. Efforts were made to reduce gown cost for healthcare providers.

Apollo PPE Face Shield

OEM Make & Model: 2020 Ford Motor Co. PPE face shield

Tier Supplier/Processor: Troy Design Manufacturing/Placon

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Ex-Tech/Placon

Material: PET, APET, and RPET PE

Process: Die cutting and rotary cutting

This is the first time this type of PPE equipment has been produced at extremely high volumes. Within two days’ time, the team developed its first clear face shields; within 13 days, 1.1 million units had been produced and delivered. To address supply constraints and potential failure modes, material was changed from RPET to APET and pushpin attachments replaced stapling. Supply streams and manufacturing teams were capacitized to more than 5 million pieces/week. In total, more than 21 million units were shipped to protect frontline workers.

In the video below, Ford shares some insights on its production of face masks and face shields.

Acteev Technology

OEM Make & Model: Not available

Tier Supplier and Processor: Not available

Material Supplier and Toolmaker: Not available

Material: Not available

Process: Spunbond and meltblown nonwoven media; continuous filaments, monofilaments and staple fibers; molded applications

A new low-odor fabric introduced in November 2019 was repurposed to produce washable and reusable nonwoven face masks. Zinc ions are embedded in the polymer matrix during polymerization, so the antibacterial treatment doesn’t wash or wear off and remains active for the life of the product. The technology also can be used for knits, woven fabrics, and engineering plastics, and is covered by more than 100 patents to date.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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