Amazon Uses 3D-Printing to Bring Face Shields Mainstream

A team of engineers from Amazon’s (AMZN) drone delivery unit is developing face shields that will soon be for sale on Amazon.com after a successful trial run with medical professionals, the company announced Thursday.

Members of Prime Air’s mechanical design and hardware teams are spearheading the effort, which began in early March. After donating almost 10,000 face shields to medical workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, the company is now on track to deliver 20,000 more in the coming weeks, said Brad Porter, a distinguished engineer and vice president of Amazon Robotics, in a blog post.

The company expects to make hundreds of thousands of the face shields available for purchase online later this month, an Amazon spokesperson said.

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“Because of the design innovations and capabilities of our supply chain, we are confident we will be able to list them at a significantly lower price than all other reusable face shields currently available to frontline workers,” Porter said.

The face shields are expected to cost one-third the price of reusable face shields currently on the market, the spokesperson said. A quick spot check of face shield prices on Amazon’s web site show they typically cost between $15 and $35.

Amazon will initially limit sales of the face shields to frontline workers, but it intends to open sales to the public in the future. The company declined to comment on whether the face shields would be supplied to workers at its fulfillment centers.

The Amazon team adapted the shields from an earlier model created by a group of 3D printing enthusiasts in Washington State. Together, Prime Air engineers and the 3D printing group upgraded the face shields to suit the needs of healthcare workers by making them reusable and more comfortable. The National Institute of Health, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, has approved the designs.

“The goal was to get something that feels good, that you’d be comfortable putting on your face on a daily basis,” said Tom Luce, a senior mechanical designer at Prime Air, in a company video.

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Amazon was then able to manufacture the face shields at scale in manufacturing facilities run by outside vendors, and on Prime Air machines that are ordinarily used for cutting fiber materials to manufacture drones. Amazon is also releasing an open source design package so that anyone can manufacture the face shields via 3D printing or injection molds.

The company has used its vast supply chain and fulfillment network in other ways during the coronavirus crisis. In April, Amazon launched a dedicated section of its website where hospitals and government agencies can apply to receive essential items like protective gloves, face masks, face shields and thermometers, among other products. The company sourced some of those products from its millions of third-party sellers.

Amazon is not the only big tech company to bring considerable resources to bear against the epidemic. Last month, Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL) announced a partnership to help health officials bring contact tracing to smartphones, Microsoft (MSFT) launched a ‘plasmabot’ to encourage people who recovered from the coronavirus to donate their plasma and Facebook’s (FB) Data for Good team announced it was developing tools for public health researchers to track if social distancing is working.

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Read more from Annie Palmer at cnbc.com

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