Ingenuity can be turned to many purposes. The same tech that builds drones can also make medical equipment. So is the lesson from Amazon Prime Air, which recently started mass-producing face shields for frontline COVID-19 medical workers.

The company shares the story in a blog post from Thursday. According to the post, in March an Amazon technical program manager first came across an open-source effort in Washington State. Makers had gathered together (virtually) to design face shields that could be 3D printed for healthcare workers.

A redesign

The program manager brought in members of Prime Air’s mechanical design and hardware teams to begin work refining the design. But the engineers didn’t just rely on their own ideas. They also consulted with healthcare professionals to make a number of important changes. They were able to make the headband thinner so it placed less pressure on the forehead, for instance. They also were able to reduce the number of sharp edges that could snag on clothing or hair. And they engineered the components in a way to improve print time, making them faster to manufacture. For good measure, they consulted with the National Institutes of Health, which approved the new open-source face shield design as effective.

But Amazon went beyond just putting a design out there for others to build. It started producing the face shields in house. To date, Amazon has produced and donated about 10,000 face shields to medical workers, and it says it intends to donate 20,000 more.

To get even more equipment out there, Amazon will also start selling face shields, but at cost. The company hasn’t named an exact price, but says that it should be “almost a third of the cost” of other reusable face shields on the market. The company says it aims to sell hundreds of thousands in the next weeks. The first ones will go to frontline healthcare workers, but Amazon says it intends to eventually make them available to any customers on Amazon.com.

Image credit: Amazon

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