Man touching a one piece woven airbag on the stand

#6: Ontario-based businesses and the innovation born as a result of COVID-19

The company’s backstory.

Ryan Stevens, plant manager, and Tom Hajkus, communications: Autoliv has been the worldwide leader in vehicle safety systems for more than 65 years. The company develops, manufactures and markets protective systems such as airbags, seatbelts, steering wheels and pedestrian protection for all major automotive manufacturers around the globe. Its products save more than 30,000 lives each year and prevent 10 times as many severe injuries. There are more than 65,000 employees in 27 countries. Chances are that the car, truck, SUV or crossover you have parked on your driveway contains at least one Autoliv safety product.

Before COVID. 

Prior to March, we were focused on our standard products, automotive inflatable curtain airbags. The One-Piece Woven airbag — otherwise known as the side curtain airbag — provides occupant protection in the event of a side or T-bone crash.

Helping fight the pandemic. 

Being agile is one of our strengths, but we didn’t necessarily pivot because our focus remained on safety, which is what we do best. Instead, we reimagined our resources and capabilities which allowed us to extend upon our vision of saving more lives and utilize our existing operations and machinery for this very important purpose. We were confident that if our standard airbag material would pass the requirements, it would be easy to immediately transition to COVID relief — making medical gowns while still fulfilling the company’s vision of Saving More Lives. The biggest obstacles were testing to confirm whether our material would work in a medical gown configuration. We were honored to receive the call from the government to assist and were humbled to be recognized by name by Prime Minister Trudeau in one of his daily briefings to announce that we joined 20 other companies to help in this country-wide effort.  

A Level 2 gown is the type needed for healthcare professionals to continue the fight against COVID-19. Level 3 and 4 gowns are surgical rated. Level 2 is 58 percent of the gown market in Canada, and Autoliv Tilbury has been making nearly 168,000 square meters worth of material on a regular basis since the initiative began. Prototypes were built within 72 hours; testing took two weeks. 


Lessons learned. 

There has certainly been a learning curve to balancing our core automotive product. “But the core premise remained: having life-saving products at-the-ready for when they are needed.” While we are using our standard materials and process to create medical gown fabric, the construction is much lighter than our airbag material. We have overcome many technical hurdles to run it on production equipment at production rate, and then be able to changeover to our standard automotive product. 

We also learned how much pride we have in knowing we are part of the COVID relief response. Our core automotive product is all about saving lives. Now we have a complementary product that does the same.

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