The surprising car component Ford is using to make medical supplies

April 13, 2020, 11:15 PM UTC

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It’s not quite making dresses out of curtains—yet—but as Ford Motor Co. makes more medical supplies for the global pandemic, it seems to be taking creative inspiration from The Sound of Music.

Like General Motors, which last week was awarded a $489 million government contract to make ventilators, Ford is already switching some of its idled assembly lines from car components to breathing machines. On Monday, the automaker revealed that it is also producing a slew of other medical supplies, including face masks and—paging the Von Trapps—reusable gowns that will be made out of a silicone-coated nylon Ford usually deploys quite differently.

“It is in fact the same material that we use in our vehicles for our airbags,” Marcy Fisher, Ford’s director of global body exterior and interior engineering, said during a conference call with reporters.

“It actually has the qualities that we need” for liquid permeability, and can be washed and reused up to 50 times, Fisher added. “This is really a great find,” she said. “We can take something that we already knew how to produce, and then turn that into isolation gowns.”

Her company, which designed the gowns in consultation with a local Detroit hospital, said its airbag supplier expects to cut and sew 1.3 million of them by early July. The automaker also set goals on Monday for production of face masks, which it will distribute internally and seek to certify for medical use; and for a battery-powered air-purifying respirator, or PAPR, that it has developed with 3M.

Ford is not yet disclosing its budget for making all of these supplies. “We’ve been approving a lot of things on what we call a ‘not-to-exceed’ number,” Fisher told Fortune in an interview earlier this month.

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