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How auto parts manufacturers could help during the COVID-19 crisis

CBC News Windsor, March 19, 2020

As auto plants in North America temporarily close due to concerns about coronavirus, Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, is working on having auto parts manufacturers adapt to produce medical supplies.

Volpe said manufacturers can make 500,000 of a given part every year. Right now, the country needs masks, gowns, goggles and ventilators, and Volpe is looking to assign some of the auto manufacturers’ capacity to help with the cause.

“Their response has been overwhelming from model auto parts makers we’re in. Just get us the specs,” he said.

Volpe said right now they’re working with the province and in some cases are in direct contact with medical supply companies to see if they can get a contract to make these products.

“The response was so swift, so many,” he said. “I almost have too many companies saying ‘Let’s do it,’ because I don’t know that we need to make that much stuff.”

“As long as people are still buying cars and things that we make, it allows everybody to keep working and keeping the work going,” Volpe said.

The shift to medical supplies would be easy enough to do, and they could convert back to automotive manufacturing quickly, he said.

“It’s really easy with communities like Windsor,” said Volpe. “People just get things done.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford spoke at a press conference on Wednesday, saying he’s talked with APMA about their support in altering production.

“They have the tools to make important health equipment and they’re ready to help,” Ford said.

He said other companies are also changing how they work to help supply the people of Ontario with food and medical supplies.

“We will spare no expense to support Ontarians through this difficult time.”

Some already making medical products

Meanwhile, Laval International, a mould-maker in Windsor-Essex, already makes parts for medical devices.

Jonathon Azzopardi, the company’s president and CEO said he has two concerns right now: The health of his employees and the supply chain.

“Keeping us open is really important, because I’m going to get a phone call that says, ‘Hey, you need to increase your output for medical beds’ … which means I need to stay open. I need to keep making my parts, so the rest of the world can keep on doing what they’re doing,” he said.

The focus has been on the supply chain, because Laval needs products to make products. Azzopardi said they have been planning for it, but, “This is happening so fast, I don’t even know if we were able to plan fast enough.”

As for workers, he’s taking precautions for their health and safety during this global pandemic and trying to ensure the company won’t close down.

“That was with the anticipation that the government is not going to force us to close down,” Azzopardi said.

He’s not currently in talks with anyone to make more medical supplies, but said they are adaptable to other medical products.

Azzopardi agreed with Volpe that companies can adapt to make different products with new specs, but said the problem lies with getting access to the materials to make the products.

“We deal with Europe and Asia as well and they stopped producing,” Azzopardi said. “There’s no opportunity for them to change over, because they’re just totally shut down.”

The company has prepared the best they could, but said in about two weeks, they’ll be treading on thin water. Two weeks from that, it could even more difficult.

“It’s going to be a tough go to see how long they’re going to shut down, that’s really what we’re watching right now. How long will this shut down happen?”

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