Approximately 50 former Ford factory workers are assembling thousands of face shields from locally-sourced parts to help Australian health authorities battle COVID-19.
Two facilities on the Broadmeadows site – where the last Ford Falcon rolled off the production line in 2016 – are churning out up to 6000 masks per day, with more than 54,000 made so far since the program began in early April, on the way to a target of 100,000.
Demand for the medical face shields is so strong that Ford has had to slow down the assembly of locally-modified Mustang R Spec supercharged V8s from six cars a day to four. The cars arrive from the US before high-performance parts are added locally.
Mark Mineo (pictured below) has been working for Ford for 38 years and is one of the operations managers in charge of the project.
He said about 80 per cent of the staff assembling the masks are former Ford car factory workers.
“It’s great to see so many of us back together again … it’s great to work with people you trust and who know production processes and who you know will do it right,” Mr Mineo told CarAdvice. “Everyone is just so proud of what they’re doing, and so happy to be here.”
Mr Mineo said his daughter and son-in-law work in the intestive care unit of a Melbourne hospital. “I feel like it’s a little bit of a contribution from us to keep front-line workers safe. I understand just how important these (face shields) are.”
In a media statement, the boss of Ford Australia, Kay Hart, said: “We said from the beginning of COVID-19 that any way we could help, we would help. Producing face shields is certainly something new for us, but our innovation team and engineers were able to test a number of different designs in hospitals. With their input we have been able to get the face shield right for the people who will be wearing them.”
While Ford Australia is donating the medical face shields, the 50 or so assembly workers are earning wages from Monday to Friday in eight-hour shifts.
The media statement from the Ford Australia boss added: “With testing of the prototype shield now complete, we’re quickly ramping up production and working to dispatch the shields to medical workers and other facilities that need them.
“It’s great that our team has been able to quickly pivot to put their skills towards producing the face shield while also continuing their global work designing and engineering pick-up trucks and SUVs,” a reference to the 1500 designers and engineers who remained at Ford Australia after the shutdown of local manufacturing in 2016, to work on global models such as the Ford Ranger ute and other Chinese market Ford cars.
Ford USA came up with the design of the medical face shield, but Ford Australia sourced specially-made parts from automotive suppliers in Sydney and Melbourne.
For example, the foam behind the headband of the face shields is made by the same company that makes rubber gaskets and foam trim hidden inside car air-conditioning vents.
The Ford Australia facility is clipping all the various components together before shipping boxes of face shields to health authorities across Australia.
At the moment there is no end date for the project. “We will do this for as long as we have to,” said Mr Mineo.
Although the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to decline in Australia, Ford says it will maintain its commitment to providing at least 100,000 medical face shields to healthcare workers across the nation free of charge.