The coronavirus pandemic caught the country unprepared, doctors, nurses and other first responders struggling to find necessary supplies of masks, ventilators and other critical gear. To help address that shortage, a number of automakers stepped up, converting some of their production space to boost production capacity for needed equipment.
That includes Honda, which teamed up operations in the U.S. and Canada to start rolling out face shields at a rapid clip. So far, the company said, it has delivered more than 70,000 of them to medical facilities in 45 states, Honda planning to produce and deliver another 60,000 “in the coming days,” according to a company statement.
“Team Honda has really stepped up to the challenge on a tight timeframe,” said Hugo Beltran, associate chief engineer at Honda Engineering North America, or EGA. “We make a car about every 50 seconds, and that’s the same type of approach that we’re taking for these face shields. We’re using our mass production expertise and equipment to produce a large quantity of shields to help people in our communities.”
Honda launched production of the face shields in March, about the same time the automaker – and the rest of the auto industry – was forced to shut down its North American manufacturing network to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to prevent its spread among workers.
As the pandemic spread, hospitals and clinics across the country struggled to find the necessary personal protection equipment. Automakers like Honda, Ford, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler quickly offered their help, converting facilities in a number of states and provinces to start manufacturing PPE, everything from masks to respirators, as well as the ventilators needed to keep the most seriously ill patients alive. Tesla purchased a few thousand respirators from China as well.
Honda focused on face shields, the EGA unit that more normally creating production gear for assembly and parts plants quickly coming up with ways to produce the plastic safety gear.
“It was a comprehensive effort with our Honda design and manufacturing teams working together to quickly solve this challenge,” said Eric Walli, Regional Planning leader of Honda North America. “We were looking at materials, doing scientific work to understand if what we put in a face shield would be safe for humans to wear and all of this was occurring as we sought to rapidly begin, and then ramp up production.”
Initially, the idea was to use a network of 3D printers at five Honda manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and Canada. When it became clear that technique wasn’t fast enough, EGA engineers were able to convert machines normally used to produce plastic parts for Honda vehicles, accelerating the rollout of face shields exponentially.
“We are incredibly grateful for this generous and much needed donation from Honda,” said Gregory Monette, interim CEO, Community Hospital of Huntington Park, after receiving 1,600 face shields through the Helpful Honda Dealers in Southern California. “Our physicians, nurses and staff are working tirelessly to care for the community, and these face shields help to protect our workers and patients.”
Along with the production of face shields, Honda recently donated vans specially modified for mobile coronavirus testing for use in and around Detroit – one of the cities hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.