Cutting-edge 3D printing technology for wheelchairs is set to make production more efficient, more personalized, and cheaper.
Traditional manufacturing requires lots of money upfront, including expensive molds. It also requires long prototyping and production times, German digital manufacturing company Replique says.
However, the company has found a way around this problem. Licensing proprietary 3D printing technology from Hewlett Packard, Replique partnered with the German medical supply company RehaMedPower to identify about 20 individual wheelchair parts that can be manufactured with 3D printing. (The exact number depends on the specific customer and other factors.)
3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, can be used to make a three-dimensional object from a digital file by printing multiple layers of material onto a specialized surface until the object is formed. This is cheaper and more flexible than using standard injection molding.
One result is that RehaMedPower has reduced the time it needs to develop a new wheelchair by 30% and cut prototyping costs by 60%.
More Personalized Wheelchairs
Arguably more important for people with disabilities, 3D printing gives wheelchair users more leeway to tailor wheelchairs to their specific needs and aesthetic tastes. And when you’re buying a wheelchair, proper customization is essential.
With RehaMedPower’s RP1 wheelchair, patients can customize various parts and choose from a wide range of colors.
“The real winners are the customers and patients [RehaMedPower] serves globally that are benefiting from more personalized care,” says. “Until now, there have been few personalization options available for wheelchair users. 3D printing technology is paving the way to make this possible so that wheelchairs can be more flexible in design and adapt to individual patient requirements.”
RehaMedPower says it plans to incorporate more additive manufacturing designs in the RP1 wheelchair. Eventually, it also wants to use 3D printing to make spare parts on demand.
“With 3D-printed prototypes, we were able to reduce our development time significantly,” Thyl Junker, Head of Development at RehaMedPower says in the statement. “Teaming up with Replique also offers some crucial benefits, such as flexibility in demand planning with production on-demand and the ability to implement changes rapidly and offer special parts to meet the individual needs.”
Mark Winker, Technical Sales Manager at Replique, says the partnership “shows that 3D printing offers so much more than just efficient prototyping. It enables companies to deliver highly customer-centric solutions while remaining cost effective and flexible in serial production thanks to our digital warehouse solution. We are looking forward to simplifying the life of RehaMedPower and most importantly, their valued patients.”
Other Companies Using 3D Printing Technology for Wheelchairs
Replique isn’t the only company making headway in this area. For example:
- Benjamin Hubert of design agency Layer is working with the 3D printing company Materialise on its own 3D-printed wheelchair. The partnership’s GO wheelchair, which is currently a prototype, uses a 3D-printed seat and footrest.
- A company called Phoenix Instict used a 3D printer to develop a new carbon fiber wheelchair with a twist: the chair continually adjusts its center of gravity to the user’s movements, making it easier to control over varied terrain. Phoenix Instict is now 3D printing carbon fiber wheelchair molds faster than they could with traditional methods.
- Wheelchair manufacturer WHILL uses 3D printing to make complex, low volume parts at a reasonable cost.
In summary, the future of wheelchair manufacturing looks exciting, with cheaper, more customized wheelchairs that are a better fit for more people. I can’t wait to see what’s next!