Materialise and Designer Benjamin Hubert Create the World’s First 3D Printed Consumer Wheelchair
London-based industrial designer Benjamin Hubert and his design company Layer will be debuting the first working prototype of their new 3D printed consumer wheelchair to 2016 Clerkenwell Design Week. The Go Wheelchair was developed alongside Materialise to bring customized, 3D printed wheelchairs to everyday users. The project’s design team spent six months working with several dozen wheelchair users, doctors and specialists to create a design that would address the deficiencies and limitations of traditionally manufactured chairs. The goal was to change the general public’s perception of a wheelchair as a medical device and instead treat it more as a consumer device that can be personalized based on individual needs.
3D printing has found a surprising number of uses within the disabled community. It offers the ability to customize products in a way that is simply not possible using traditional manufacturing technologies, which is important when dealing with a community that has individual disabilities that often can’t be properly addressed with standardized products. For the most part, each disability is unique, and each disabled person has a specific set of needs and limitations. 3D printers have been used to create thousands of low-cost prosthetic limbs and countless assistive devices for a fraction of the cost of traditionally made prosthetics. While high-end 3D printing technology has been used to make wheelchairs before, it has only been used for individual athletes or custom builds, never for everyday consumers.
“With the Go wheelchair, we saw an opportunity to really progress the manual mobility category for users with disabilities, and to use 3D printing technology to solve significant and meaningful problems. 3D printing for manufacture is the most appropriate and powerful technology available to capture each individual’s unique body shape to enhance the form and format of a very necessary product and provide exceptional performance,” Hubert said.
While designing the Go, Hubert and his team focused on addressing specific issues that many of the longtime wheelchair users that they spoke with have with standard chairs. And despite being rather common, many of these issues have never really been addressed by wheelchair manufacturers. Creating a customized wheelchair starts with a body-mapping process that captures the user’s height, weight and body measurements, not to mention taking note of their individual disability. These data will be used to create made-to-measure seats and foot bays that will improve comfort and support while reducing injuries, pressure and stress on their bodies. The seat will also be placed at the wheelchair’s center of gravity based on the user’s weight, while still taking into account their optimal sitting position.
The most obvious result of the new design is the aesthetic concerns raised by users who wanted a wheelchair that looked cooler and less like boring medical equipment, which can often carry a stigma with it. But as cool as the Go looks, the sleek and modern design isn’t a superficial change. The design eliminates as many unnecessary components as possible to make the wheelchair considerably lighter than older designs. This all contributes to reducing the weight of the chair so it puts less strain on the user’s body and joints, and will hopefully lower the risk of injury and reduce the rate of chronic arthritis.
The lightweight titanium frame manages to use fewer struts without reducing functionality, while the new, slim titanium foot bay replaces the bulky and outdated footplates from older designs completely. It also has a anti-slip surface to keep the user’s feet in place, and is made to perfectly suit their leg length, the shape of their foot and their preferred sitting position. To further reduce weight, the wheels have lightweight carbon fiber spokes and are equipped with high-grip push rims attached to an innovative “wheelchair glove system” that makes the wheelchair easier to push and maneuver, especially in wet conditions.
The ergonomic seat is 3D printed in two different materials, a semi-transparent resin to further modernize the look of the chair, and a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) plastic that provides a shock-absorbing layer between the user and the 3D printed titanium frame. The reduced weight of the wheelchair not only makes it easier to move around in, but it makes it easier to stop and control. The Go takes advantage of this with its easy to access hand brakes that offers the user much more stability.
Layer also plans to launch an app with the Go Wheelchair that will allow users to help further design and customize their new chair. They will be able to choose colors, optional features and accessories. According to Hubert, the wheelchair can be ordered directly from the app and manufactured and delivered within two weeks. Discuss in the 3D Printed Wheelchair forum over at 3DPB.com.[Source/Images: Dezeen]
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