Ford’s use of cutting-edge technology in its manufacturing processes to help meet the country’s needs for personal protective equipment and medical supplies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has earned recognition. Gary Johnson, chief manufacturing and labor affairs officer, who was pivotal to Ford’s Project Apollo efforts, was recently named 2020 IndustryWeek Manufacturing Technology Leader of the Year.
While technology has always enabled the company to move more quickly, precisely and at a reduced cost, this year it allowed Ford’s engineering team to move even more rapidly to deliver much needed personal protective equipment to front-line responders. In total, Ford, in partnership with the UAW, produced tens of millions of pieces of equipment.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in how it has affected our industry,” said Johnson, who oversees the operations of every Ford assembly, stamping and powertrain plant around the world. “What makes me most proud of Ford and our UAW partners is how we have worked together throughout this entire crisis, using technology and communications to build personal protective equipment while developing and enforcing safety protocols designed to keep our workforce safe. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have a strong relationship, trust and the ability to work through issues together. I thank our entire manufacturing team globally for what they have accomplished.”
3D printing proved pivotal to get personal protective equipment into the hands of front-line workers as quickly as possible. Ford used additive manufacturing technology both to design and launch parts for powered air-purifying respirators as well as to print prototypes of the devices, leading to improved performance.
Digital scans of components used to manufacture personal protective equipment and 3D printed replacement parts allowed Ford to make rapid design changes and improvements in the production process. Digital twins – a digital replica of a physical object or space – of Ford facilities were used to determine if the plants’ infrastructure could support personal protective equipment and medical device manufacturing.
Technology also enabled communication tools that allowed Ford to keep in constant contact with teams around the world, including suppliers.
The efficiencies Ford found through technology were transferred along with the company’s manufacturing engineering specialists who were deployed to partners 3M and General Electric. The optimized processes created by Ford resulted in as much as 200 percent higher production levels of N95 masks, respirators, powered air-purifying respirators and ventilators, Johnson said.
Johnson credited Ford employees for their contributions to Project Apollo, calling them “our most meaningful advantage.”
“They are always the driving force behind what we do, and our COVID-19 response was no different,” he said. “Our team was able to leverage their skill sets to quickly come together with a shared vision, deploying Ford’s cutting-edge additive manufacturing capabilities to contribute to life-saving measures around the country. This entire project has been a game-changer.”
Johnson, 56, will retire effective Feb. 1. He will be succeeded by John Savona, vice president, North American manufacturing.