GM CEO says suppliers have "moved mountains" as companies ramp up ventilator production

General Motors ramping up ventilator production
General Motors ramping up ventilator producti... 05:17

General Motors, with the help of Ventec Life Systems, is producing ventilators to help in the fight against coronavirus. The companies are expected to make 600 ventilators by the end of April and 30,000 by the end of August. Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, and Chris Kiple, CEO of Ventec Life Systems, discussed their ongoing efforts with "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell.

Norah O'Donnell: Do you know where these first ventilators will go?

Chris Kiple: Our commitment is to make as many ventilators as we can as fast as possible. We are shipping those devices to FEMA and FEMA is making the allocation decisions on where these units go and where it is most in need.

Mary, what guidance has the federal government given you about where these ventilators will go and where they're needed?

Mary Barra: Again, that decision is for FEMA. We understand they have all the information to make sure they go to the areas of most need. So Chris and I are just focused, and the team really in Kokomo, is focused on how do we make high-quality ventilators as quickly as we can.

Yes, I know you've got the plant there in Kokomo, Indiana. How difficult was it to transition these assembly lines to make these ventilators, Mary?

Mary Barra: I have to say that the team did a phenomenal job when you look at the space they took. They had to completely clear it, put in all of the infrastructure and tables and assembly stations, all of the IT systems, to build ventilators that have hundreds of parts and to do that in a very high-quality manner.

The work that has happened, has happened over — what normally would take probably weeks — has happened in days and sometimes hours. And it's the dedication of the team down there. They are working so hard, many of them working more than 20 hours a day, to be able to get ventilators off the line as quickly as possible.

And how were you able to do it so quickly?

Mary Barra: I think, you know, when we go back and look at, from the first call that Chris and his team had with some of our leadership, they just started looking at how quickly can we do this. Engaging both some of the Ventec suppliers, as well as non-traditional medical device suppliers, but automotive suppliers. All of these suppliers have just, you know, moved mountains to be able to get the parts to the Kokomo facility, to be able to enable the production of ventilators.

So it's really, there's been this tremendous call to action and dedication of so many people to make this happen. On the GM team supported by the UAW [United Auto Workers]. On the Ventec team, the supply base. It's truly been incredible and I think it's just teams at their best.

And Chris, how many ventilators was Ventec manufacturing before, and what has this partnership with GM been like?

Chris Kiple: We look at producing ventilators in the hundreds, and GM looks at producing things in the millions. And together we're able to look at medical device production in a very different way. This partnership is allowing us to produce 10,000 or more ventilators on a monthly basis. That's just something that was never imagined or even possible without this partnership coming together.

That's incredible to think about that. Mary has GM ever launched a project this big, this quickly before?

Mary Barra: I have to think this is one for the record books. But it really is the cooperation between the Ventec team and the GM team. The initial engineers, the manufacturing specialists, the IT, quality. Really, we have pulled in somebody from every part of General Motors to work with the Ventec team. And then our team members that are on the line actually assembling, they have come from everywhere as well, in addition to those coming from the local community. So it's just been a team sport, but everybody has been so committed because they know how important this is and that it can save lives.

Mary, how is GM protecting workers, as there are still many coronavirus infections still being reported?

Mary Barra: Safety is our overriding priority. So, we are following very strict protocols as it relates to temperature screening, wearing masks — one of the most important things people can do is wear masks. And as you go through the facility, every single person is wearing a mask the whole time they're there. 

There's cleaning protocols from the start of shift to the end of shift. And so we're really leveraging all the best practices, all the recommendations from the CDC, from the World Health Organization, in addition to our learnings from other facilities that are running. And I think this is going to be very important, and people understand the importance of it. And so, therefore, you know, everyone is following all the procedures perfectly.

And Chris, let me ask you that. Because as Americans contemplate going back to work, what lessons have you learned in your company about how to get back to work safely?

Chris Kiple: It's really a community effort. And I think, Mary said it best, it starts with the people. It starts with a commitment to safety, and it starts with the culture change. And we're living life very differently today. We're working very differently today, and everyone is committed to that. And it's been amazing to see people rally around the community support and the safety mechanism that we put in place.