WMU supply chain alum helps drive GM’s efforts to produce ventilators

Contact: Stacey Markin
Ventilators lined up on shelves.

VOCSN critical care ventilators undergo testing at the General Motors manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana.
(Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors)

Doctors hold a ventilator.

Weiss Memorial Hospital receives a shipment of VOCSN critical care ventilators in Chicago.
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo for General Motors)

DETROIT—Creating a complete supply chain within 72 hours. That is what the team at General Motors did after being contacted by StopTheSpread.org, a coalition of volunteer CEOs working to unlock the collective potential of U.S. businesses to catalyze action in response to COVID-19.

That initial conversation led to a collaboration with Ventec Life Systems. The goal: to increase production of Ventec’s respiratory care products to support the growing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Answering the call were a lead engineer and three global purchasing and supply chain leads. Michael Schwandt, B.B.A.'13, is part of that team, and doing the most challenging and meaningful work of his career.

“Although developing a supply chain under crisis conditions is not new to GM, the COVID-19 pandemic presents a new challenge due to the extremely short timeline,” says Schwandt. “The immense pressure of the pandemic adds a high degree of personal commitment. Success under these circumstances entails crucial resource management, creativity and collaboration.”

Michael Schwandt and his family

The core purchasing and supply chain team kicked the project off on a Friday, seeking to identify and source suppliers by Sunday night. After establishing a supply chain, the team created a plan to address critical issues such as low supply, bottlenecks and more. Many parts needed alternative suppliers, while other core assemblies did not have alternate sources, so the current suppliers required support to scale capacity. Within 72 hours, the team had developed plans to source 100% of the necessary parts.

“GM identified a key subset of traditional ventilator suppliers who wanted to aid our efforts to increase capacity, knowing resources were constrained,” says Schwandt. “GM’s strengths in handling crises, creating unique solutions, and having the ability to allocate experts allowed this ramp up to be remarkable. GM immediately dispatched supplier quality engineers from around the world to support these suppliers to increase capacity under such high demand. In one case, GM’s supply chain organization was able to increase capacity by 25 times the supplier’s prior build plan.”

GM recently received an order to deliver 30,000 units from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, working with Ventec and other partners. “With this effort, success was measured in minutes rather than hours,” says Schwandt.

A 24-7 workweek is what Schwandt signed up for when he volunteered for the project.

A cardboard box signed by people who helped make ventilators.

Workers pack the first VOCSN critical care ventilators for shipping.
(Photo by AJ Mast for General Motors)

“This is the most important endeavor I have been involved with in my professional career. Everyone on this team is working around the clock in order to give back to our communities. Whether it’s for our family members who are working on the front lines in hospitals, a friend who has contracted COVID-19, or a colleague who has lost a loved one, each of us is affected by this pandemic. We are all working toward a common goal to beat COVID-19 and save lives. Having an impact on this fight keeps the team going. Together, one day at a time, our collective efforts will help overcome this pandemic.”

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.