General Motors Put to Work on N95 Project

July 16, 2020
Frank Diamond

Brand Insights | <b>TSI</b>

The filtering face piece respirators will be manufactured at General Motor’s facility in Warren, Mich. The company had to revamp its manufacturing process to accommodate making the respirators, creating four separate assemble stations.

The health emergency presented by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has led federal officials to give General Motors the green light to manufacture the facepiece respirators used in N95s. The approval was granted Tuesday by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“As defined by NIOSH, the term N95 refers to the filter class, not the respirator,” GM said in a press release. “However, many filtering facepiece respirators have an N95 class filter and many people refer to them as N95 respirators. A filtering facepiece respirator that filters out at least 95% of airborne particles during ‘worst case’ testing using a ‘most-penetrating’ sized particle is given a 95 rating.”

The filtering face piece respirators will be manufactured at General Motor’s facility in Warren, Mich. The company had to revamp its manufacturing process to accommodate making the respirators, creating four separate assemble stations. The goal is to create a tight fit for the user. Here’s the plan:

Station 1: Four layers of fabric are welded together and cut into rectangles.

Station 2: To those rectangular “blanks” are added the outer perimeter as well as the pocket for the wire nose piece, which are also welded into place.

Station 3: The wire nose piece is then installed. The material is then folded horizontally and a “sonic weld in the shape of a hockey stick is installed from the nose to chin.”

Station 4: Any material excess is trimmed off.

Ear bands are then manually welded into place. The completed N95s are examined for quality. If they pass, they’re cleaned, bagged, and shipped.

“To expedite the launch of the N95 line, GM repurposed sonic welders from the Brownstown Battery Assembly plant,” the company said. “These sonic welders were previously used to form sub-assemblies in the Chevrolet Volt’s battery packs. For the N95 line, the equipment was updated with new templates to create the weld patterns needed for respirators.”

GM adds that: As with face masks, GM will donate some of the N95 respirators to frontline workers.”

The lack of adequate supply of N95 respirators has been a constant problem throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With the recent spikes in cases of the coronavirus, N95 supply and usage promises to remain a source of conern.

Harry Peled, MD, the director of cardiology and critical care at St. Jude Medical Center, Fullerton, Calif., told Infection Control Today® recently that all healthcare workers dealing with inpatient hospitals patients who may, or may not, have COVID-19, need to be fitted with an N95. It’s an argument that Peled and co-writers recently made in an opinion piece in the Annals of Internal Medicine, as well.

“I think for administrators and infection control people, the attitude has to be there is enough evidence that the wearing of N95s should be official,” Peled told ICT®. “The claim that we’re going to wait for perfect evidence is just not tenable. We don’t do that for anything else in medicine.”