Carbon Fiber Extreme

An Inside Look at How General Motors is Mass-Producing Masks

Not all heroes wear capes – some of them wear masks.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created a critical shortage of face masks across the world, meaning these heroes are on the front lines of the crisis without the protection they need to keep themselves, their families and the people they serve safe.

With the help of engineers, designers, buyers and people in manufacturing, we were able to convert our Warren, Michigan facility to produce masks in less than seven days.

This facility is projected to produce up to 50,000 masks per day, or approximately 1.5 million each month. Below is a behind-the-scenes look at the facility and mask production process.

1. Source raw materials

We worked with automotive suppliers to develop the three layers of fabric in the masks. These companies typically provide GM with sound-deadening insulation found in doors, headliners and trunks, but they quickly altered their production processes to help manufacture these desperately needed masks.

2 Fold, weld, and cut

The custom-made “mask maker” automatically sandwiches the filter material and metal nose piece between an inner and outer layer of fabric. It then folds the pleats, welds the layers together, and cuts each mask accordingly.

3. Cut and attach the ear loops

Employees then cut ear loops from elastic straps and attach them to the mask using sonic welders. Often used in many automotive applications, these sonic welders use ultra-fast vibrations to “melt” the two materials together, without using heat. Ear loops are then checked to ensure size and secure attachment to the mask.

4. Sterilization

Masks are loaded into a sterilization cabinet that is filled with high levels of ozone for 20 minutes to sanitize the masks.

5. Bagging

From there, packages of 10 masks are bagged, sealed and prepped for delivery! While the GM team has identified a process for mass-producing masks in a short amount of time, we are continuously looking for improvements to speed up production. For example, during the first week the team manually labeled and sealed bags in two separate stations; now the team has sourced machines that save significant time by labeling and sealing bags in one station.

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