Amazon says it will produce hundreds of thousands of face shields for medics and sell them at cost price in the US.
The internet giant said engineers from its drone and hardware divisions had been tasked with developing the product.
At first, it will sell them to healthcare professionals, before making them available to all Amazon customers.
Amazon is not the first major US firm to use its resources to produce personal protective equipment (PPE).
Apple began sending face shields to hospitals in March. Space X, HP and Ford also used their manufacturing resources to make and donate face shields and other types of protective equipment.ADVERTISEMENT
Amazon said that it had donated 10,000 face shields in the US and was “on track” to deliver a further 20,000.
But its plan to sell them at low prices on its website will make them available to the general public, something other firms have not done.
A look on Amazon’s marketplace on Thursday showed face shields sold by independent sellers were priced between $12 (£9.80) and $35.
Once Amazon makes its mask available to all its customers, it could drive the price down significantly.
The online retail giant has faced criticism for undercutting the prices of independent retailers on its sites, but anti-trust experts say its efforts to help in this crisis will likely offset those concerns.
“People who are concerned about Amazon’s predatory behaviour might be concerned but more people will be happy Amazon is making sure these are lower cost at a time of crisis,” said Michael Kades, director of markets and competition at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
The company said it based its designs on a face shield developed by a community of 3D printing enthusiasts in Washington.
After making some changes, its designs had been approved by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Engineers from Amazon’s drone division specialising in hardware design created a new design within a week that improved the quality of the materials to allow them to be reusable and added an enhanced snap feature to keep the shield in-place to make them safer.
The engineers also amended the geometry of the shields 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.
Amazon’s Brad Porter wrote in a blog post: “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.”
Both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the British Standards Institution (BSI) have warned that homemade and 3D printed face shields do not always protect healthcare workers’ faces from exposure to the coronavirus.
But the global shortage of PPE has led to an increasing number of frontline medical workers crafting homemade equipment.
Amazon did not say whether it would provide the masks to workers at its warehouse who have reported a lack of safety equipment during the coronavirus pandemic