Medical Sector: Automotive makers: going the extra mile to keep the medical sector safe

As the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise globally, medical protective equipment for healthcare providers is in short supply. This has seen the automotive sector rise to the occasion with solutions, says Angelica Buan in this report.

Automotive industry in 2020: a fallen star

In almost the same period last year, the automotive industry growth was forecast to stagnate against the impact of the US trade war since it began in 2018. The automotive industry wrestled with the up to 25% tariffs levied on vehicles and parts. This situation not only affected the automotive supply chains of the US and China but also that of Europe and other regions.

But just as the global automotive industry was looking to rebound in 2020, along came another blow – the Covid- 19 outbreak, said to have originated from China’s “motor city” of Wuhan in the Hubei province. It has, since, grounded a majority of China’s economic activities.

 Medical Sector: Automotive makers: going the extra mile to keep the medical sector safe

China is the world’s largest automotive market accounting for 30% of total global car sales in 2018, according to Beijing-based Daxue Consulting, and it had factories suspending operations amid the Covid-19. Wuhan, production base to some of the world’s major car companies, General Motors (GM), Honda, Nissan, Peugeot Group, and Renault, represented 10% of China’s carmaking capacity in 2019.

Inevitably, the outbreak contributed to decline in car sales in China by 92% in the first half of February, according to Daxue.

Accelerated into a pandemic, Covid-19 has forced more plant shutdowns outside of China. The US and Europe, registering staggering coronavirus cases within weeks, have seen car plants and facilities going offline to contain the virus. Asian countries afflicted by Covid-19 like Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, where the automotive sector is a significant economic pillar, are likewise bracing for a potential market crash.

Market experts suggest a more bleak post-pandemic scenario for the automotive industry. Based on a poll conducted by the Automotive Supply Chain and Technology team at IHS Markit, a significant degree of uncertainty looms over the automotive sector, in general. Demand disruption, reduced output due to OEM plant shutdowns, shortage of raw materials and labour were among the major concerns, among respondents.

Shifting priorities: gearing up to produce PPEs

Meanwhile, on the front line of the Covid-19 battle is the healthcare sector. Healthcare workers are not only racing against time to treat as many patients but also waging a war against the dwindling supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Healthcare workers rely on personal protective equipment to protect themselves and their patients from being infected and infecting others. But shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for Covid-19 patients, due to limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has, thus, urged industries and governments to increase their production of PPE by 40% to meet rising global demand. But even then, PPE manufacturers, going beyond their maximum capacities already, are still short of fulfilling the continuous demand that is increasing day by day.

The rising demand from medical facilities, in addition to panic buying, hoarding and misuse are conducive to the shortage, WHO stated, adding that securing supply chains by boosting supply and easing restrictions are vital.

WHO, as well as several governments, have distributed PPEs to countries that indicated rising counts of infected patients. According to its estimate, around 89 million medical masks/month are required for the Covid-19 response. For examination gloves, that figure goes up to 76 million, while international demand for goggles stands at 1.6 million/month. At the current rate, supply is not adequate.

Global automotive makers, an unlikely sector to address the shortage of PPEs, are reportedly working double time to help boost the supply. Currently, car companies are churning out face shields and masks from their factories to be delivered to countries that are battling Covid-19.

Remedy for India’s requirement for medical face shields

India, the fourth largest automotive producer in the world, and seventh largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles in 2018, according to the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), may have to park its target of becoming the world’s automotive manufacturing centre for the time being to focus on restraining the surge of the Covid-19. As in many countries, medical workers in India are now facing PPE shortages that many have resorted to using raincoats, helmets with sun-visors and other plastic materials as substitutes for N95 masks or protective gowns.

Škoda Auto Volkswagen India Private Limited (ŠAVWIPL) has stepped in to augment the shortage by producing reusable face shields at its Chakan factory. It said that the transparent face shields serve as protection from body fluids and can be worn with masks.

Designed to prevent fogging and lightweight, to enable ease of movement of the wearer, the transparent sheet that forms the shield can be sanitised after 6-8 hours before reuse.

 Medical Sector: Automotive makers: going the extra mile to keep the medical sector safe

The company, a merger of the three Indian subsidiaries of the Volkswagen Group India – Volkswagen India Pvt Ltd (VWIPL), Volkswagen Group Sales India Pvt Ltd (NSC) and Škoda Auto India Pvt Ltd (SAIPL), also donated 1 crore rupees to set up a Covid-19 dedicated 1,100-bed facility in Sassoon General Hospital in Pune; as well as provide 35,000 units of sanitisers to hospitals in this Marahastra city of more than a 7 million population.

European car makers buckle down to make ventilators

Europe was heading towards pioneering a decarbonised and connected mobility roadmap when it encountered an unexpected bump: the rapidly spreading Covid-19.

Spain has one of the highest numbers of cases in Europe and the tally is increasing. Meanwhile, thousands of its healthcare workers are adding to the infection statistics, with the insufficient supply of PPEs, thus aggravating the situation.

For Spanish car maker Seat time is of the essence. Thus, the Volkswagen Group company, which in January reported growth of 10.9% of deliveries to a record 574,100 vehicles, has begun work on making automated ventilators from its Seat Leon line at the Martorell plant, with its definitive model produced at a record speed of one week.

The Martorell, Barcelona-headquartered car maker has mobilised 150 of its employees from several areas of the company to produce the model, after designing 13 prototypes. The initiative started since the beginning of the situation caused by Covid-19, Seat said.



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