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As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, it created a critical shortage of face masks. To help protect workers in essential services across the country, GM launched a rapid-response project to produce masks at scale on 20 March. Seven days later, the team had produced its first sample on the new production line. By next week, GM expects to deliver its first 20,000 masks to frontline workers.


Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors

Without help from GM’s partners around the globe, the project would have taken several months to plan and execute. The team working on GM’s face-mask project accomplished the task in just one week.

Project kickoff to first mask took six days, 23 hours, 30 minutes. More than 30 engineers, designers, buyers and members of the manufacturing team were asked to help with product development, sourcing materials and equipment, and planning the production process.

The first people we called were those who work with fabric vehicle components. In a few days, the company’s seat belt and interior trim experts became experts in manufacturing face masks.

—Karsten Garbe, GM plant director, Global Pre-Production Operations

The team sourced the necessary raw materials by leveraging GM’s existing supply chain. These materials include metal nose pieces, elastic straps and blown, non-woven fabric filter material. Simultaneously, GM collaborated with JR Automation in Holland, Michigan and Esys Automation in Auburn Hills to design and build the custom machinery needed to assemble the masks.

For the project, the team selected the ISO Class 8-equivalent cleanroom at GM’s manufacturing plant in Warren. Work began at the Warren facility by removing existing equipment from the cleanroom. The team cleared approximately 31,000 square feet to accommodate the mask production lines. Crews then installed new electrical service lines to power the production equipment and assembly stations.

With the site cleared and prepped, production equipment and materials were then delivered to the Warren facility. Crews worked around the clock to install equipment and stage the production line. The team then tested each step in the production process, looking for opportunities to improve quality and production speed.

At 2:30 p.m. on Friday, 27 March, the project team had their first production-made mask in their hands.

The projected production volume is just as aggressive as the project’s timeline. By Monday, 30 March, more than 2,000 masks were produced by teams working through the weekend. These initial test samples will be used to ensure the quality standards are met. Once these quality measures are completed, the team expects to start producing masks for delivery early next week.

GM and the UAW will seek more than two dozen paid volunteers from Detroit-area plants to staff mask operations. In addition, GM has implemented a series of safety measures to protect these team members through physical distancing, enhanced on-site cleaning and pre-entry health screening.

The team expects to have 20,000 masks ready for delivery on Wednesday, 8 April. Once the line is running at full speed, it will be able to produce up to 50,000 masks every day—or up to 1.5 million masks a month. GM is currently developing a plan for distributing the masks, including using some of this important safety equipment to protect employees in critical GM operations.


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