The car assembly lines are stopped. Attention in some vehicle factories in Brazil has now turned to very different machines: hospital respirators.
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Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Jeep, Renault, Scania and Toyota have confirmed that they have joined a newly created task force to repair these critical equipment for the treatment of Covid-19 critically ill patients. Work started in the middle of this week.
The goal is to repair about 3 thousand unused devices mapped throughout Brazil, a number that may be even greater. As of Friday, 6 of the 9 brands that confirmed participation had received around 80 respirators, according to a G1 survey.
On Monday, General Motors updated its number to 91 devices received in total, which brings the overall bill to about 160 in repair – the owner of Chevrolet had reported 10 by the middle of last week.
But how to transform those who understand the machine to make cars and trucks into repairers of hospital machines?
"The basis we have, which is the knowledge of electronics," explained Marcos Túlio Sousa, Fiat's maintenance supervisor in Betim (MG). "Industrial and medical equipment have the same component."
"It is very gratifying to be able to help using what I know how to do. If I could repair 1, it would have been worth all the work for me", describes Sousa.
To the technical basis, specific training was added – and virtual, of course – with specialists from the National Service for Industrial Learning (Senai) and the Brazilian Association of Clinical Engineering (Abeclin).
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In addition, experiences are exchanged daily on a network for sharing information via WhatsApp messages made up of technicians, health professionals and other companies, such as transport and certification of devices.
And it is not a tightening of the screw: the time between receiving each respirator and returning it, repaired, if possible, and certified, is at least 3 days.
Before any contact with technicians, respirators go through a kind of "quarantine", being isolated for 24 days, Toyota said. The specialists also work protected with gloves, masks and glasses.
Sixteen respirators from hospitals in MG arrived in Sousa's hands this first week, full of challenges: some, stopped for a long time, don't even have a history to know what the defect is.
Only two were in final tests until last Friday (3), when he talked to G1.
Sousa and the eight technicians who take part in this action by Fiat faced simpler situations, such as a device that apparently just had to change the battery, even another that still remained a mystery.
"Yesterday, two technicians had the respirator from 6 am to 3 pm and could not identify the problem. They will continue tomorrow (Saturday)", said the Fiat supervisor.
Technician works on respirator repair at the Fiat plant in Betim (MG) – Photo: Disclosure
When it comes to replacement parts, some can be done with a 3D printer, explains Sousa. The exchange of messages with the other participants also helps to save time: "We obtained the manual of a device in 20 minutes, thanks to the group," he said.
After the repair, it is necessary to test the device for about 12 hours, to make sure that it works within all the necessary parameters.
Where do respirators come from?
The operation is centralized by the Ministry of Economy, explained Leonardo Amaral, responsible for coordination at Fiat.
The federal government informed the state departments about the initiative, and they sent a letter explaining the procedure to each health unit.
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Orders are sent by e-mail to the Ministry of Economy, which distributes the demands among the factories, respecting the order in which the requests arrive, said Amaral.
MG devices are distributed between Fiat and Senai. Logistics companies and others that contribute to the task force carry these respirators. Sometimes, the hospital itself.
"Our expectation was to receive another 50 devices next week. But, now, I understand that the number is going to increase because the MG police is authorized to remove this equipment as well," said Marcos Sousa, maintenance supervisor at the automaker.
Last Thursday (2), the commander-in-chief of the state Military Police said the goal was to collect respirators from more than 1,300 points in 24 hours.
Like Fiat, which also does the same job in Pernambuco, the other vehicle manufacturers that announced participation in the initiative serve health units where they have production: the states of Bahia, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and São Paulo.
G1 searched the 9 brands last Friday to find out how many devices they received in the first week of the task force. Five of them had about 70 respirators to repair.
General Motors, owner of Chevrolet, told G1 it would make all of its plants available for action. She did not respond to Friday's question, but had informed SPTV, midweek, that she had received 10.
On Monday (6), the company reported that it already has 91 respirators for repair, which raises the overall number of devices that are with automakers to about 160. Of these, 37 are expected to be delivered for use in the next few days, said GM.
In addition to the 16 devices that are in Betim, Fiat and Jeep, which are part of the same group, have another 15 in Pernambuco, coming from Paraíba – the company will also serve this state.
Honda received about 20 respirators at its factory in Sumaré (SP) and 1 was already undergoing tests this Friday to be used again. The company assigned approximately 30 employees, including engineers and technicians, for the task.
The same number of people are working in facilities built in a Scania sports facility, a truck manufacturer, in São Bernardo do Campo (SP), to repair the respirators.
The first shipment, with 22 pieces of equipment, was removed voluntarily from a hospital in São Paulo. This Friday, the company received another 15 from Baixada Santista.
Toyota received the first 3 respirators last Thursday and they are still in the "quarantine". Twelve technicians will work on the repairs, which will be made at the Sorocaba unit (SP).
In Paraná, Renault trained 4 employees to work on the maintenance of respirators. The company says that the equipment will be sent first to Senai in Maringá. There, a screening will be carried out, so that they can be passed on to the manufacturer.
The National Confederation of Industry (CNI) informed that there are a total of 25 maintenance points, of which 10 are units of Senai and 15 are in units of the automakers mentioned in the report and also of ArcerlorMittal and Vale.
These "initiative points + respirator maintenance" are in 13 states: Bahia, Ceará, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Paraná, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul , Santa Catarina and São Paulo.