As global emergencies go we haven’t faced anything as threatening and all-encompassing as the COVID-19 pandemic since the Second World War. Only this time it’s different. Rather than countries fighting each other, this time we’re all in this together, united in a war against a common unseen enemy.
At the height of the Second World War industries across the globe were transformed and Australia was no exception. GMH’s and Ford’s factories stopped making cars and were pressed into service producing army trucks, aircraft engines and field guns for the war effort.
History doesn’t repeat but it often rhymes. Australia’s vehicle making industry may be dead and buried, but in the face of the COVID-19 emergency a car business of a rather different hue has stepped up to offer its expertise at our time of need.
The Walkinshaw Automotive Group, which converts vehicles from left-to-right hand drive, among other things, is putting its engineering expertise and equipment to work building ventilators which will be desperately needed should coronavirus cases start rising.
“To help emergency departments treat patients affected by COVID-19, we have raised our hand to help both Federal and Victorian governments to design, engineer and assemble any emergency medical equipment that [can] be made with a 3D printer,” said Walkinshaw Automotive Group chief, Ryan Walkinshaw.
“We would need the blueprints to the design of these ventilators, but we can help once we have the right information.”
Walkinshaw’s associated business, HSV, also has equipment that can be turned over to the COVID-19 fight to manufacture face masks and protective clothing by pressing its trimming equipment for car interiors into service.
V8 Supercar Teams
And Walkinshaw and HSV are not alone. Other V8 Supercar teams, including Erebus Motorsport and Triple Eight, have put aside their fierce rivalries to develop and distribute much-needed medical equipment across the country.
"As soon as we got back from the grand prix, (team boss) Roland (Dane) had the idea to re-purpose our resources in design and manufacture, so straightaway he wanted us to start looking into ventilators," said Triple Eight team manager Mark Dutton.
It took the highly skilled team just days to come up with a working prototype for a ventilator.
Erebus Motorsport has turned its hand to developing prototypes for a face mask and a Perspex patient cover, both of which are vital for protecting medical personnel.
Meanwhile fellow V8 Supercar Team CoolDrive is using its associated parts distribution business to help get the equipment to where it’s needed.
Motorsport’s involvement in the fight against the disease isn’t limited to Australia’s shores. In the UK a group of 15 companies including seven Formula 1 teams are working together to build up to 10,000 ventilators. It’s the sort of cooperative effort that Michael Shoebridge of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute reckons should be expanded internationally.
“In contrast to vaccine development, we have yet to see global cooperation between medical researchers and industrial designers and manufacturers,” Shoebridge wrote recently.
“There is internal cooperation between governments and companies on ventilator production, but little obvious international cooperation. That needs to change urgently so that we create what we need fast: open source designs for easily producible ventilators, using parts and supplies that are likely to be available in our own nations.”
However, many carmakers across the world are stepping up to the mark. Fiat in China is producing masks, while GM, Ford and Tesla in the US have pledged support for making ventilators. Ford is working with GE Healthcare and 3M designing respirators and ventilators using batteries, fans and other parts usually destined for cars. It’s also producing face shields for hospital staff.
Meanwhile in India The Mahindra Group, which makes tractors and electric vehicles, amongst other things, is also looking towards making ventilators in its factories.
Ventilators might be a stopgap measure in the fight against coronavirus, rather than a cure, but they’ve vital for saving lives, nonetheless. And unlikely as it seems, right now they’re easily the most important thing coming out of the world’s car factories.
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IMPORTANT NOTE - This content is current as at 21 April 2020 and provided for information purposes only. The information may not be suitable or appropriate for your organisation’s operations and needs. As such, please undertake your own independent assessment(s) and take into consideration any specific government laws and guidance. Response and advice regarding Coronavirus is changing rapidly and it is important that you keep up to date with all relevant information issued by the Australian Government.