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Breath of Fresh Air: Lafayette Technicians Deploy to Assemble Ventilators for GE Healthcare

April 23, 2020 | by Sarah Sampson
Assembly Technicians from the GE Aviation site in Lafayette, Indiana, have packed up and traveled to Madison, Wisconsin, to assist GE Healthcare with assembling ventilators. Given the major demand increase, the shop in Madison has had to increase capacity—and that requires more people on the line.

“We reached out to the Healthcare site in Madison to offer our help, knowing our assembly techs had the skills they needed,” said Renato Vidal, Lafayette plant leader. “Within two minutes of putting the call out to our team we had people stepping up to help. We worked it out with the Healthcare team and started sending our 40 techs up in waves starting March 30.”

This was not the first time that the Lafayette team has stepped in to offer assistance. Over the past few years, technicians have been redeployed to various Aviation sites to help with bubble assignments. In this case, the 40 assembly techs will work with GE Healthcare for approximately four weeks as they help assemble and test these life-saving machines.

GE Healthcare has doubled its capacity of ventilator production since the outbreak began and plans to double it again by the end of June. As GE Aviation employees have helped fill a gap at the GE Healthcare facility in Madison, the company is still looking to add employees to join manufacturing lines across the globe to keep facilities open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Top: Mark Van Zant working on the line at GE Healthcare in Madison, Wisconsin. Above: Members of GE Aviation's Lafayette assembly tech team soon after their arrival at the Madison facility—from left, Tom Montgomery, Justin Riddell, Caleb Walker, Mark Van Zant, Ryan Brooks, and Cory Hock. Image credit: GE Aviation

One of the GE Aviation Assembly & Test technicians who volunteered to help is Mark Van Zant, who has been with the company at the Lafayette site for three years as an inspector technician for the LEAP engine. Van Zant is working on the R860 ventilator line assembling the computer portion of the ventilator. They’re able to produce about 20-25 ventilators from scratch to completion each shift, which means Van Zant has helped build more than 200 ventilators so far. And they’re being shipped all over the world.

“At the end of the day with both Aviation and Healthcare, lives are at stake,” said Van Zant. “We don’t want our engines to fail, and we don’t want these ventilators to fail. It’s all about saving lives.”

Collin Wece, who has been with the Lafayette site for three years, also made the trek up to Wisconsin. His reason for going was simple: “In this uncertain time, it’s an opportunity to keep steady employment while also helping produce a vitally needed tool in this pandemic.”

Wece works on the “mixed-model line” installing oxygen lines into Aisys CS2 and Avance CS2 machines—ventilators that can also deliver anesthesia during surgery. He immediately noticed the complex andon light system on the mixed-model line, an important tool in lean production management. “It’s been a pretty easy transition from Aviation to Healthcare as they provided full workstations and work instructions for the tasks,” he said.

Tom Montgomery helping to assemble a ventilator on the GE Healthcare production line in Madison. Image credit: GE Aviation

Vidal has also been impressed with the way his crew quickly integrated itself into an entirely new production environment. “We’re incredibly proud of the teamwork displayed across the GE businesses to support this critical effort,” he said.

The GE Aviation team has leaned into other opportunities to support innovative ways to lend a hand during the crisis. The Cheltenham site has partnered with GE Healthcare to produce 5,000 bedside monitors to be used in hospitals across the UK. And GE Additive has formed a task force to rapidly design scalable 3D printing applications to support frontline medical workers. The Additive teams have already successfully designed a full-face shield for the local medical community in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a polymer face mask brace for GE Healthcare field service employees.

All of these efforts have begun to make a difference in the fight to halt the spread of the coronavirus. On April 21, Vice President Mike Pence visited GE Healthcare in Madison and praised the work being done there.

“The effort that the GE Aviation folks have given here in Madison is indescribable,” said Keith Hrobsky, Clinical Care Solutions Facility Manager for GE Healthcare. “Their short learning curve, coupled with the desire to help, has allowed us to produce machines at a rate that has far exceeded all of the ramp-up plans that were written. They have conducted themselves with professionalism, stayed calm in tough situations, and have helped us in every way you can imagine. We cannot thank the GE Aviation team enough. We wouldn’t be running our facility the way we are right now without them.”

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GE Aerospace is a world-leading provider of jet and turboprop engines, as well as integrated systems for commercial, military, business and general aviation aircraft.