Pretoria - Ford Motor Company of Southern Africa has commenced production of 57 000 protective face shields for donation to front-line medical and essential services personnel as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread globally.
The Silverton-based car manufacturer has also approached its suppliers and business partners to ramp up production to a minimum of 500 000 units to meet the growing demand for these shields.
The face shields, which protect the user's eyes, nose and mouth from coronavirus, which is easily spread through coughing and sneezing, are being produced at Ford's Silverton Assembly Plant in Pretoria by employees who volunteered to make a difference during this global pandemic.
This South African initiative complements the humanitarian efforts of its parent company in the United States to produce face shields, and partnering with GE Healthcare to manufacture ventilators at its Michigan plants.
"The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented, and is having a dramatic impact on the health of communities around the world while placing a massive strain on the medical resources of even the most advanced countries," said Ockert Berry, vice president responsible for operations at Ford SA.
"With South Africa on lockdown and our plants not operating at the moment, we felt that it was essential for us to use our manufacturing capacity and expertise to contribute to the efforts of the South African government, private healthcare institutions and humanitarian organisations to contain the spread of Covid-19, and to care for those infected with the virus.
"The general public and businesses across South Africa are invited to contribute to the project which aims to address the critical shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE) during this global health crisis."
The World Health Organization and the South African department of health have deemed these face shields, along with the N95 face masks, which can be worn under the shield, a crucial part of personal protective equipment for medical personnel who are at the greatest risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Ford SA said these shields will be made available to the police, military and those responsible for transporting workers in the essential services industries.
The company said it is working closely with the South African government to facilitate distribution across the country.
"With the face shields in critically short supply, we are dedicating our resources and manpower to produce the face shields as quickly as possible,” Berry said.
"We are urgently engaging with our component suppliers and business partners, and inviting them to come on board and assist us with raising funds for this important project.
"We welcome any contributions from individuals and companies across South Africa to support this initiative, whether it's R10, R10 000 or R100 000, every little bit counts.
"Our goal is to produce at least 500 000 face shields, and possibly even more, so that we can assist the healthcare efforts across the country and even beyond our borders if necessary."
Already, Trek Plastics has begun supplying the medical-grade materials to Ford at a discounted rate, with a capacity for producing 15 000 kits per day.
Additionally, Corruseal Group has committed to supply boxes at no cost for packaging the face shields, and Creative Graphics International has donated other material.
Two of Ford's transport service providers, Trans-Atlantic Logistics and DSV, have agreed to waive the transport costs to help with distribution to hospitals, clinics and other locations countrywide.
Other suppliers that have contributed thus far include Feltex Automotive and Aeroklas Duys for the foam materials, and Lithotec for the labels.
The shields, which wrap around the user's face, are being produced to global health standards, using a clear polyethylene shield, polyurethane foam padding and an elastic latex fabric headband to keep it in place.
Each unit is packaged with clear instructions on how to wear the shield correctly, along with cleaning and storage guidelines. They are designed to be reusable, and sanitised after each use.
Ford employees involved in the production process work according to strict Covid-19 health and personal hygiene guidelines.
The carmaker said all staff are screened regularly for coronavirus symptoms, and are required to wear latex gloves, face masks and the face shields, and maintain appropriate social distancing at all times.
"It's in periods of crisis, such as what we're experiencing right now across the world with the Covid-19 pandemic, that the extraordinary efforts of people that are committed to making a difference in their communities really stands out," said Neale Hill, managing director of Ford SA.
"We commend the remarkable efforts of every individual at the front-line of the battle against the coronavirus, as well as each company and organisation that is helping to contain its spread, tend to the sick and support the nation with the multitude of essential services during these challenging times.
"We also value the support of every person that is able to contribute to the success of this project."
All contributions will exclusively be used to purchase the kits for the face shields. Ford is covering all the labour costs for assembly and packaging, and supplier companies are assisting with materials, boxes and other packaging materials, as well as transport.
Individuals and companies wishing to contribute to this initiative can send an e-mail to [email protected], using the reference: Ford SA Covid-19.
South Africa is going through a 21-day national lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19. The country has at least 1845 confirmed infections and total deaths are now at 18.
The lockdown is accompanied by a string of regulations that limit the movement of citizens, who are expected to stay at home unless they are shopping for food, seeking medical help or supplies, banking, buying petrol, collecting social grants, or performing essential services.