With personnel and tools in its Prime Air drone design and assembly unit, Amazon is making and selling at cost medical face shields to healthcare organizations. Pictured here: Medical staff wear face shields made by Amazon and its collaborators.

Amazon.com Inc., in a blend of its ecommerce sales, product design and manufacturing expertise, is making and selling its own medical face shields

Amazon is making tens of thousands of medical masks to supply to healthcare organizations, relying on the expertise and assembly tools in its Prime Air drone unit, the company said last week.

BradPorter-Amazon

Brad Porter, vice president of robotics, Amazon.com Inc.

The ecommerce giant has already donated 10,000 units of its newly designed face shields to healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19 cases, and “is on track to deliver 20,000 more in the coming weeks,” Brad Porter, an Amazon vice president and distinguished engineer leading the company’s robotics initiatives, including the company’s Prime Air drone delivery system, said in a blog posted last week.

Amazon expects to make “hundreds of thousands” of shields over the next few weeks and “sell them at a significantly lower price—almost a third of the cost—than all other reusable face shields currently available to frontline workers, Porter says. Amazon is initially making the shields available only to frontline medical workers, but plans to eventually offer them to all Amazon customers, he adds.

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From drone parts to face shields

Amazon personnel have been building the shields at Amazon’s drone engineering facilities in Washington state—using, at one location, a machine that normally cuts carbon fiber for drone parts to slice screens for the face shields. Contract manufacturers are also helping to produce the shields, and about 500 people overall have contributed to the project, Amazon said.

Amazon became involved in making the shields after an Amazon technical program manager became aware of a not-for-profit group of 3D-printing enthusiasts at the Washington State 3D Face Shield Hub, which was making face shields for frontline medical workers. “Comprised of makers and professionals of various vocations, this group had started to develop their own design and was building these by hand out of their homes and offices,” Porter says. “Seeing the need, this Amazonian brought on colleagues from Prime Air’s mechanical design and hardware teams.”

Within a week’s time, engineers from Amazon’s drone team worked with the 3D-printing organization and elicited input on product design and materials from medical professionals to develop reusable shields designed with a better fit and higher levels of safety, Porter says.

“Making sure the shields could be produced quickly and at scale, we produced a detailed open-sourced design package for both 3D printing and injection molding,” Porter says, adding: “Working with a team of doctors, our Prime Air engineers received approval of their new design by the National Institutes of Health.”

Bloomberg News contributed to this article.

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