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3D Printed Modular Wheelchairs: Medical Devices as Fashion

TCT Magazine was on hand at Autodesk University London 2018 when Disrupt Disability “unveiled the world’s first generatively designed modular wheelchair” prototype.

Rachael Wellach, who is the Founder and CEO of Disrupt Disability, has been working with Steve Cox, a 3D Tech Consultant with AMFORI Consulting.  Together, they “have delivered a proof of concept for the goal they have been working towards for nearly two years.”

Disrupt Disability began as a series of hackathons, wherein suggestions from wheelchair users and professional designers were taken under serious consideration.  The company’s mantra “of able-bodied people don’t wear the same shoes every day, so why should wheelchair users use the same wheelchair every day” has served as the company’s guiding principle.

The wheelchair prototype is “comprised of five interchangeable modules, customized in accordance with [Wellach’s] measurements and preferences, puts the user forward and itself in the background, and has the potential to be retailed under the 2,000 GBP price point of typical personalized models…all that’s left to fine-tune is the weight, which will come as metal additive manufacturing technology develops.”

The wheelchair’s modular capabilities are vital to the project: “there are five core modules: the seat, backrest, rear wheel axle, cast support and footrest, can all be swapped out to better suit the function at any given time.”

As those working on the project explained, “the lightweighting of a wheelchair is as important as it is in the automotive and aerospace industries.  It means less material usage, and less cost in both the production and shipping stages, but most importantly it makes life easier for the user. In a world where [wheelchair users] are continually restricted, be it through accessibility, stigmatism, or mobility – making life easier is Disrupt Disability’s motivation.”

As Cox adds: “I’ve been involved with Disrupt Disability for two years and right from the very beginning I’ve had this itch I wanted to scratch of throwing Generative Design at a wheelchair to see what it could produce in terms of making something as lightweight as possible, so it takes the least amount of effort for the user to move around. Casting into the future when metal additive manufacturing is more efficient, it will give you the opportunity to put a lattice structure inside instead of having them solid which would save more weight.”

Indeed, the prototype’s seat was designed inside Fusion 360’s Sculpt workspace.  In the future, the seat will be SLS printed.  “The simulation capabilities not only gave the partners the confidence to print the seat, but the seamless way in which Fusion 360 enabled alterations to be made post-simulation, then updated and run through the simulation again, was a key part of an efficient iteration process.”

Cox concludes, referring to the wheelchair prototype: “there’s no way I’m pretending this is a final product, it’s there as a thought-prompter and discussion promoter…one of Rachael’s visions is making a wheelchair more of a wearable device, in the same way spectacles are a medical aid but they’ve become a fashion item.  Why can’t we do the same for wheelchairs?  A key part of this was clearly to make a modular wheelchair which allows the user to A) customize it according to their preference and B) change it on a day to day basis depending on what they are doing.  I think this proof of concept shows this could potentially work.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of TCT Magazine

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