Written By: Paul Sahr, Linamar Vice President of Sales for North America
In late March 2020, like much of the world, there was a major adjustment to our work, school, and home life. The initial COVID-19 lockdown was in full effect, and all of the employees of Linamar, who were used to working in a very fast-paced work environment, were sitting idle.
The auto industry knew they could play a vital role supporting governments and health agencies around the world as they began to think about how to address the global pandemic crisis, Linamar was poised and ready to offer its capabilities to provide solutions as their customer assembly lines were shut down, factory lights turned off and CNC machines were empty. Then the call came from one of our largest automotive customers.
It was from General Motors late that week late on a Friday; could Linamar help? GM, in collaboration with Ventec Life Systems, had a challenge put in front of them from the US government – rapidly increase the production of life-saving ventilators and distribute to ICU departments in hospitals across North America in response to the expected surge in COVID-19 infected patients who would require critical care.
I personally traveled down to GM’s offices in Warren, Michigan, when the roads were empty, and everyone was still living in fear. There was a large conference room with a table full of all the various components that make up a ventilator assembly. The question was asked by the GM point person who had not slept in the past day; “which parts could Linamar manufacture, and how fast?”
The next day, Saturday, we lead an internal video conference call with more than 30 members of our technical and operational leaders asking how they could support. Not surprising, at least not to me having worked at Linamar for 20 years, every operational leader asked for a part to make. And the action plans started almost immediately. It was a long day that lasted for several weeks until we began to ship parts. Plants worked day and night. As a company, we were pivoting!
We re-tooled our existing equipment to ramp up production. In less than 2 weeks, quality parts were rolling off our production lines. We have had rapid production launches in the past, but this was different. Not to say it was anything like a war-time effort, but it had that same kind of feel. It was about more than just simply meeting a customer’s timing requirement, there was a greater common purpose to it. And you could tell, our employees felt that too.
In a little less than 5 months Linamar had over 15 of our plants involved in the program, manufacturing 15 different part numbers equating to 30,000 critical care ventilators that GM & Ventec built and delivered. Linamar had previously identified MedTech as a market for potential future expansion into, but this was seen as a longer-term strategy and at that point still in the early innings. In just a matter of weeks, we proved we could manufacture to the required quality standards that medtech required and all within an expedited timeline. It was a major accomplishment we are still all very proud of today.
Vice President of Sales, North America