Linda Hasenfratz, chief executive of auto-parts giant Linamar Corp., a company from Guelph, Ont., known the world over for building engine parts and transmissions, is now suddenly and deeply immersed in the challenge of producing hospital ventilators.
It’s not a particular business line she had envisioned for her firm even a month ago. “We had identified medical devices broadly as a market that we are interested in and are looking to expand into at some point … we’re exploring the field but ventilators were not on the list.”
Amid the novel coronavirus crisis, Ms. Hasenfratz and her company are engaged in what amounts to an unprecedented project. They are teaming up with other auto-parts makers to help a small Brampton, Ont.-based firm, O-Two Medical Technologies, produce 10,000 ventilators in a matter of months for the Ontario government.
The Linamar CEO says, in some ways, an engine and a ventilator are not that different. “Both are complex assemblies full of very critical, precisely manufactured parts that need to be assembled in a certain way – and then the full assembly needs to be tested.”
O-Two is in charge but Linamar is spearheading the work by Magna International Inc., Martinrea International Inc. and ABC Technologies Inc., which have volunteered to bring their expertise to bear in this rapid escalation of production.
Plans are still being hammered out, but Ms. Hasenfratz said the auto-parts makers’ contributions will include parts. “We are tooling up a whole bunch of machined parts, like 40 different parts, that we can manufacture for them.”
Auto-parts makers say their industry is very good at expanding production quickly, manufacturing extremely precise items, dealing with suppliers to expedite the shipping of raw materials and components as well as eliminating or reducing bottlenecks on the production line. Plus, these firms have the financial resources on hand to quickly procure items.
“We’re used to highly precise manufacturing with very tight [measurement ] tolerances … and very high standards in terms of cleanliness,” Ms. Hasenfratz says.
She said parts makers could also take charge of subassembly – putting together components that will then form part of the ventilators – to make it easier for O-Two to focus on final assembly and testing.
Flavio Volpe, president of the Auto Parts Manufacturers Association, which played a crucial role in bringing together the assistance for O-Two, said one option would be akin to sharing assembly of a Lego kit with a 30-page instruction manual. “It might be the best way to get to 10,000 ventilators is five pages belong to Linamar, you get your current medical suppliers to do five pages, you get Magna to do five pages and then Martinrea to do five pages. By