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GM picks 2 suppliers, considers building ventilators at Indiana plant

Jamie L. LaReau, Detroit Free Press
Published 3:45 p.m. ET March 23, 2020 | Updated 5:21 p.m. ET March 23, 2020

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General Motors is considering the feasibility of building ventilators at the automaker’s components plant in Kokomo, Indiana.

The automaker also has tapped two auto suppliers to make parts needed for the production of the critical care ventilators. 

GM announced Friday it was partnering with medical device company Ventec Life Systems to speed up production of ventilators as coronavirus proliferates across the nation.

Now the company has  reached out to various auto suppliers for help. One, Twin City Die Castings Inc. in Minneapolis, was especially right for the job. With 20% of its business in medical device companies, it was already working with Ventec.

“When I got the news last week (of GM working with Ventec) I had to shift my resources from what I can do to stay afloat, to what can I do to help medical companies save lives,” Twin City Die Casting CEO Todd Olson told the Free Press.

GM said it has been working around the clock to sort out how to help Ventec. One idea GM has is using the automaker’s 2.6 million-square-foot factory in Indiana.

“GM is exploring the feasibility to build ventilators for Ventec at a GM facility in Kokomo, Indiana,” said GM spokesman Dan Flores on Monday. 

The plant employs about 392 people and builds electric components and assemblies, said Flores. 

GM said it will provide additional updates when it can.

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Besides tapping Twin City Die Castings, it has also chosen Spartan Light Metal Products near St. Louis, to help make ventilator compressor parts of magnesium to be used to manufacture about 200,000 ventilators, said a person familiar with the decision who asked to not be named for fear of job reprisals. 

More: GM taps big auto suppliers for help in boosting ventilator production

More: GM to partner with medical device company to boost ventilator production

A call for comment to Spartan Light Metal Products was not immediately returned.

Twin City’s Olson confirmed his company is working with GM and said it’s a natural fit.

“We’ve been working with Ventec for nine months on the design of their products and we were scheduled to get moving with production of the aluminum and magnesium parts,” Olson said. “This really expedited things.”

Olson said the normal process to retool a plant to build a part would take about 12 weeks, but people are trying to get this done in one. Olson said the first part will roll off the line Friday.

“Our people are working around the clock and they worked all weekend,” said Olson.

That’s because Ventec wants to ramp up production “to be prepared to build 20,000 ventilators a month,” Olson said. Ventec’s previous volume was 200 a month.

GM had also considered the auto supplier Myotek for the job. But the company would not have been able to do it fast enough, said Eric Showalter, CEO of Myotek in Farmington Hills.

Myotec does not have an internal tool shop and, “It would have taken us two weeks. We would have to use outside tool shops and there’s a transfer there.”

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GM spokesman Jim Cain declined to comment, noting there are 700 parts that go in to building a ventilator, so there will be many auto suppliers who may ultimately be called upon to help.

Myotek makes small lamps and fog lamps for many automakers including GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. It also makes magnesium parts for those headlamps, which is what GM was looking for to help build the ventilators. Myotek’s annual revenue is about $185 million, Showalter said.

“We are waiting to see how we can help and if we can help further. We’ve offered further support with electronics and plastics,” said Showalter.

Contact Jamie L. LaReau: 313-222-2149 or jlareau@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletter.

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