3D Printing

A wheelchair for tomorrow, today

Benjamin Hubert has revealed the world’s first completely 3D printed wheelchair.

 

Hubert, of design agency Layer, produced the GO prototype as part of the company’s new research division. Hubert worked with Materialise, which is a leader in the field of 3D printing software.

The company will officially launch the GO wheelchair in London at the Clerkenwell Design Week and is looking for partners to take it further.

Hubert worked with a number of wheelchair users to create this ground-breaking design for a tailored chair that can be produced within two weeks, rather than the eight weeks it takes right now.

 

A better wheelchair for a better future

The basic goals were to remove the stigma of wheelchair use and to improve the day-to-day life of people that rely on their chair. Reducing the wear and tear on the person’s upper body was also a major concern, as wheelchair users suffer disproportionately with arthritis in later years.

As 3D printing is a relatively recent innovation, the team also wanted to investigate how the chair could be tailored to the individual and how much difference that could make to their quality of life.
A lightweight wheelchair with thin cf spokes

 

Tailoring affects more than style

The seat and the foot bay can be made-to-measure and that has a profound impact on the comfort levels and practical applications. Users often spend more than 18 hours a day in their chair, according to the research the company did before embarking on the project.

It spent six months investigating today’s options and making informed choices on the new design and the prototype is the result of two years of hard work.

The GO wheelchair consists of two different materials that revolutionise the look of the wheelchair, including a semi-transparent resin with an integrated matrix of TPU. The TPU provides a level of shock absorption that takes a vast amount of padding in current chairs, or flexible material, which either adds to the weight or compromises the level of support.

 

Padding helps in the short term, but there’s a cost

Padding can also affect the user’s posture, whereas a tailored seat can ensure that their weight is distributed evenly and they remain in the most comfortable position. This helps stave off back problems later, as well as giving the wheelchair user a better life today.

A quadriplegic can often have their feet pointing inwards, too, which affects their self-confidence. Simply fitting the foot bay precisely can conceal this effectively.

“One of the ways you can spot a true paraplegic is their feet on the footplate, they tend to pigeon-toe inwards,” said one user. “For most of us, that is really frustrating because you don’t want to go around looking like that.”

 

Materials have a lot of the answers

Material science really hasn’t advanced as much as it should. This is one item that people rely on each and every day, they often have to power it themselves and they can be in the chair all day every day. It’s essential, then, that it is as comfortable, lightweight and practical as possible.

We also have it at our disposal to make the chairs a great deal more stylish, too. Manufacturing practicalities and the costs have simply ruled out great aesthetic strides in the past, but 3D printing opens up new possibilities.

3D scanning and CAD design also helps the team determine each user’s specific centre of gravity, which can be used to optimise each chair to make it easier to get around. A lightweight construction with a titanium foot bay, carbon-fibre spokes in the wheels and design that reduces the need for bracing also helps the user every time they move.

 

High grip rims are a performance modification

Other neat tricks include high-grip push rims that have been designed to work specifically with the GO gloves to give the user the best ‘power to push’ ratio they can get.

The GO is just one example of how 3D printing and modern design can improve the lives of the people that need it most. This is a massive step by Layer and we hope they can get the funding to turn what is, essentially, a design exercise into a production reality.

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