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Toyota Reveals Challenges in Repurposing Factories for COVID-19 Support

Like GM, Ford, and Tesla, Toyota has recently extended its production suspension across manufacturing facilities in North America and is preparing to convert its facilities into medical supply production centers in response to COVID-19.

As of now, the Toyota facilities are closed till April 17 with production officially restarting on April 20. The carmaker has donated emergency relief materials and monetary donations to further support communities in need of assistance.

Toyota Face Shields

Toyota is Making Face Shields and Masks

For healthcare field support, Toyota has started working on mass production of 3-D printed face shields with the first distribution going to select hospitals in Houston, Dallas, Indiana, and Michigan. 

The car company also shared that they are ready to produce masks designed to protect against COVID-19, however, they are still looking for a partner to help develop the necessary filters for the masks Toyota is also in the process of finalizing details with two companies to help increase their capacity on ventilators and respirator productions.

Toyota has further highlighted its Toyota Production System Support Center which offers manufacturing and engineering support to medical suppliers as well as by organizing drive-through COVID-19 testing stations. Still, the novel coronavirus cases continue to rise as final details are under review.  The car company’s biggest constraint at this point appears to be time.

What are the greatest challenges carmakers like Toyota are facing to create necessary ventilators?

As Toyota demonstrates, finalizing the details to actually build ventilators and create other protection materials to help combat against COVID-19 is anything but simple. The transition from making cars to ventilators is no easy feat.

The Food and Drug Administration stated that they will do all possible to help companies reduce constraints as they build life-saving equipment related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, conventional medical suppliers are understandably prudent when it comes to working with outside partners to prevent defects in mass production. Medical suppliers are also concerned about their intellectual property being compromised, even during a pandemic. Ventilator designs, for example, are typically privatized.

Responding to these concerns, President Trump recently implored the Defense Production Act which helps prevent intellectual property threats and protect patent agreements. This act was originally established in 1950 to assist with wartime production materials for the Korean War. 
Under the Defense Production Act, the President is allowed to authorize companies to prioritize materials needed for U.S. national defense measures in times of war or health crises the “Expansion of Productive Capacity and Supply” section grants the President with the ability to create incentives for companies to generate in-demand materials.

Trump has oversight on how the carmakers and its medical supplier partners can distribute the products made in response to COVID-19 and can even defer the supply chain process in case these companies would like to send ventilators to other countries in need.  Congress will have some provisions when it comes to setting prices of the equipment that the carmakers will help create.