Prototyping Reduces Flaws in Wheelchair Design

Multi-level prototyping can save you time, expediting your product's entry to market.

Springfield, NJ - January 7, 2009 - Sleek design, cutting edge technology, leather seats. No, we're not talking about the latest sports car hitting the market. Instead, it's a wheelchair. When a wheel chair manufacturer looked to develop the Triple C Comfort Chair they turned to Sigma Design to meet their design needs. Like most complex design projects, frequent adjustments and tweaks were needed before a final model could be developed. Luckily, with the use of multi-level prototyping, design changes small and large could be best analyzed to help bring the design to life.

When designing a wheelchair, several important details must be considered. President of Sigma Design, Jerry Lynch recalls, "Everything from the comfort of the cushion to the ease of use, to the size of the gears needed to be taken into account." In the process of developing the chair, the model was modified several times to consider various design and use factors. Prototyping made the difference in incorporating all of these details. Lynch explains, "Prototyping has value exceeding that of simple concept development. When applied to each level of the design process, prototyping allows for fewer design flaws and successful models." According to a recent MIT study, use of prototypes increases productivity 100% of the time.

Initially, prototyping was used at the concept and feasibility level. 3D rapid prototypes of gears were developed in-house to assure gear fit and function based on the original design. "By using prototypes early on, we were able to fix small design flaws before they affected the overall functionality of the device," explained Lynch. ABS plastic parts were quickly created and used as a concept development tool. Once the gears were tested and improved, final versions could be made of metal. In the meantime, the prototype versions saved money and materials by solving design flaws early on.

Further along, small assembly and story board prototyping was used to make changes as more details were considered. Unlike building an ordinary machine, look, feel and comfort had to be taken into account in each step of the design process. The Triple C Comfort chair moves by pushing and pulling side levers rather than turning the wheels by hand. This makes the wheelchair more accommodating for users with limited movement capabilities. These side levers were tested as both a small assembly and as part of a first article prototype system. "Serving as a life size functional model, the first article prototype allowed designers to work with the Triple C Comfort team to design the most user-friend model possible. Lynch explains, "Most designers overlook the value of first article prototype systems. In this case, a first article system worked to uncover nuances that you can only 'feel and see' if you actually use the product."

From simple concept prototypes to first article prototype systems and everything in between, prototypes can be used to reduce design flaws and expedite the design process. "It is exciting and rewarding to see months of work culminate into a sleek and elegant design. With the self propelling arms, this chair will make life easier for anyone using a wheelchair." As the product market grows, designers must create more innovative and complex products to compete. Using multi-level prototyping product developers can save time and money. Whether it's a small concept for a gear or a complex self propelled wheel chair, prototyping is a useful tool for design.

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