Coronavirus: Amazon To Make Affordable Face Shields

Amazon is to help protect medical professionals during the Coronavirus pandemic with the announcement it is making face shields, which it will sell at cost.

The face shields will initially only be sold to medical professionals, before eventually being made available to the general public.

And these face shields are cheap, as they priced at a “significantly lower price – almost a third of the cost – than all other reusable face shields currently available to frontline workers.” For reference, third party face shields are typically priced between $12 and $35.

Image credit: World Health Organisation

Face shields

Amazon said that it had taken an initial face shield design that was being 3D printed by a community group of 3D printing enthusiasts in Washington State for frontline medical staff.

However Amazon then used its own in-house expertise (including its drone engineers) to improve the design, making it more comfortable and safer to use.

“When you think of Amazon you don’t naturally think of hardware design,” Amazon’s VP of Robotics, Brad Porter, wrote in a blog post. “But many teams across the company specialise in this discipline. In one week, engineers from our world-class drone team, in coordination with the open source group, took the initial design and drastically improved it.”

“The upgrades they made were based on direct feedback from medical professionals – the team improved the quality of the materials to allow them to be reusable, added an enhanced snap feature to keep the shield in-place to make them safer, amended the geometry to reduce sharp edges that could snag clothing or hair, thinned the forehead band to reduce pressure on a person’s forehead, and drastically improved print time making them quicker to manufacture,” he wrote.

Amazon then open sourced the design for both 3D printing and injection moulding, to allow anyone to manufacture these face shields for their community’s needs.

It should be noted that Amazon’s face shield design has been approved by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), after some UK bodies warned that some designs are not certified for medical use.

A video of Amazon’s involvement in Face Shield production, can be found here.

Mass production

“It’s no secret Amazon has expertise in supply chain. Putting our scale to use for good, we repurposed our manufacturing facilities and are working with outside vendors to produce these new face shields quickly, and at a fraction of the cost,” wrote Porter. “An example of this is how we’re using a machine that ordinarily cuts fibre materials to manufacture drones but is now being used to cut screens for the face shields.”

He said that to date, Amazon has donated nearly 10,000 face shields and is on track to deliver 20,000 more in the coming weeks.

“To help quickly meet the growing requests from medical professionals across the country, we have decided to start mass-producing these face shields and aim to make hundreds of thousands available over the next few weeks, at-cost, on,” he wrote.

“Because of the design innovations and the capabilities of our supply chain, we are confident we will be able to list them at a significantly lower price – almost a third of the cost – than all other reusable face shields currently available to frontline workers,” he added. “We are looking to prioritise frontline workers and then eventually open up to all Amazon customers.”

Amazon is not the only firm to begin making PPE.

Apple for example began sending face shields to hospitals in March.

And Space X, HP and Ford also used their manufacturing capabilities to make and donate face shields and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Heavy spending

During the Coronavirus pandemic, Amazon has seen a lot of e-commerce demand for online deliveries, cloud services, and even groceries.

But the firm is also spending an eye watering $4bn on Covid-19 related costs. And Amazon has also hired an extra 175,000 staff in the past quarter alone.

Yet Amazon has not had things all its own way during the Coronavirus pandemic.

It emerged it is using thermal cameras to screen staff from a blacklisted Chinese firm; the firm had to close its warehouses in France after a court ruling; and it has been facing industrial unrest from its staff in its US warehouses.

Amazon last month revealed it was building its own coronavirus testing facility in order to monitor the health of its staff.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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