Part of the Sunderland plant has already been turned over to distributing masks.

Nissan is to switch from building cars to manufacturing personal protective equipment for health workers. Instead of churning out Qashqais, Jukes and Leafs, the company’s Sunderland factory will be turned over to the production of protective aprons for NHS workers.

The news comes a week after Nissan confirmed part of the production line had been turned into a distribution centre for plastic visors required by health workers. The components for the masks have been 3D printed by volunteers, before being packed in Sunderland and then sent out to NHS trusts up and down the country.

Now, though, Nissan’s Wearside plant will begin making aprons in a bid to help meet the huge demand for personal protective equipment. The company says the decision was taken after a request from the Royal College of Nursing and the Unite union, which asked UK manufacturers to use their spare capacity to help the coronavirus effort.

Nissan Sunderland Aprons

It took a team of Nissan staff volunteers at the plant just eight days to design and build the on-site process to manufacture the plastic aprons, which are made to technical specifications issued by the government. At first, Nissan says the factory will make 18,000 of the tear-resistant polythene aprons a week, but it hopes to increase that to 70,000 a week “within weeks”.

The manufacturing process is being carried out at the Gateshead College Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation, which is located at the plant. Production commenced this week, and the plant has already taken 47,000 orders from local NHS trusts.

Nissan Sunderland Aprons

And despite this new project, Nissan’s operation to pack and distribute the 3D-printed visors will carry on unaffected. The company claims up to 100,000 of the masks are being delivered each week in batches of 125.

“We are proud to support our healthcare workers wherever we can during this crisis,” said Nissan’s production director Adam Pennick. “The team at the plant have done an excellent job in creating a production process in such a short space of time. It really highlights the skill and dedication we have in our team at the Sunderland plant.”

The news comes as the UK moves into its second month of coronavirus lockdown. First announced on March 23, the package of social distancing measures is designed to cut the transmission of the virus, which can be deadly to some people. Figures from April 23 showed almost 426,000 people had been tested for the virus, with just over 138,000 testing positive. Of those hospitalised in the UK who tested positive for coronavirus, 18,738 have sadly died.

Gallery: Nissan starts making aprons for the NHS