Ford Bridgend Engine Plant may be ordered to make components for medical ventilators in the UK Government’s fight against the coronavirus.
The 1.1 million sqft plant is due to close at the end of this year and it’s stopped making Ford engines but continues assembling petrol engines for Jaguar Land Rover and the disease has hit already flagging car sales so there is a lot of production capacity and hundreds of workers in the Welsh plant.
Some space in the plant could be utilised to produce components to be assembled elsewhere as the UK reaches out to manufacturers and engineering companies to help the NHS.
It is thought hospitals will need about 20,000 ventilators to help seriously ill patients breath as the disease worsens and a worse case senario sees eight million in-patients needing care.
Current ventilator manufacturers can only make a few hundred of the machines a month and there is a worldwide shortage of the life-saving devices as the disease globally spreads.
Stringent design, manufacturing and testing of ventilators ensures they are capable and reliable and the Government is seeking wide co-operation to speed up mass production using licensed products, possibly streamlining rules and testing.
Even if existing ventilation producers can make more, the need is likely to outstrip their abilities so Government has asked Ford, JLR, Honda, Vauxhall and Rolls-Royce to assist with engineering.
While they cannot make complete units without radically rethinking production they are likely to be able to produce high quality metal and plastic components which could be sent to another factory and fitted with electronic boards and displays for final assembly. There is the possibility of a more basic ventilator being designed which needs fewer electronic parts.
Welsh Government is understood to have asked Ford if Bridgend Engine Plant can help and the UK Government said it had also put the question to Ford, which has said it is looking into what it could do at short notice.
Existing legislation exists to compel manufacturers to stop regular production and make designated products under defence rules used in time of war and PM Boris Johnson and Government Ministers have likened the fight against coronavirus as an unprecedented war.
The advent of printed 3D design and computerisation in manufacturing will in theory make it easier to manufacture anything and cut down the design and prototype testing. A pooling of engineering expertise and possible integration of academic assistance from Universities such as University College of Wales Trinity St David, which already works with BEP on advanced projects, means it could make the items fairly quickly.
The Welsh Automotive Forum supply chain body has already been asking its members what they can do to assist if needed.