DETROIT — Before the coronavirus outbreak shut them down, U.S. auto factories were hectic workplaces where men and women worked side by side along fast-moving assembly lines, ate in crowded break areas, and jostled in and out of gates as they changed shifts.
That is not what auto factories are like in the era of COVID-19. A General Motors operation set up in a shuttered transmission factory near Detroit in Warren, Mich., to assemble face masks provides a glimpse of what manufacturing will look like for the foreseeable future.
People entering the plant rub their hands in sanitizer made by a Detroit brewery. A surgical face mask and safety glasses are required equipment. They stand while a security guard points a temperature scanner at them.
GM’s face mask factory sits in a sprawling maze of abandoned transmission gear machining stations. Automakers have compared their crash programs to manufacture medical equipment for the COVID-19 outbreak to the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ of the…