Thursday, February 16, 2017

The 3D Printed Wheelchair

When I first read this article title I had to do a double take because I was actually quite interested and impressed on how 3D printing a wheelchair actually works. It is crazy how far our society has come when it comes to technology. With what started as 3D printing basic shapes the size of a quarter, has impressively evolved into 3D printing significant things that can help our every day lives. This article talks about how 3D printing has enabled the wheelchair industry to add personalization and unique styles to further advance and improve their product. As Benjamin Hubert, the director of London design industry Layer, states that during the customization process, “The user’s body is actually scanned and their needs assessed; that information is synthesized into a one-piece seat made to their specifications.” For instance, someone who has a spinal injury would have a different wheel chair seat than someone who lost a leg or had a leg injury. 3D printing easily allows the industry to customize and mold the wheelchair to exactly what the user needs for their injury.
            The article states that the 3D wheelchairs consist of “A frame of steel and aluminum supporting foam-filled leather or plastic, with a handful of settings that may or may not accommodate the user’s specific condition.” It seems that there is clearly an upside for 3D printed wheelchairs in terms of comfort and style, but that comes at a cost. The cost of production for the 3D wheelchair is quite high, causing a high product price. Here lies the downside right now. The industry needs to figure out a way to lower the price down or be more efficient when it comes to production price. The issue is right now 3D printing is still so new and fresh to our society that it costs a lot of money to 3D print products as complex as a wheelchair. This may lead to many handicapped people sticking with the cheaper traditional wheelchair.
            While I acknowledge that the price of 3D printed wheelchairs are higher than the traditional model, I still believe that this could be successful in society. Think about it, if you were going to be in a wheelchair for the long term, wouldn’t you want to pay a little extra cash for a more comfortable wheelchair that is completely customized to your own handicap? I certainly would. So while Hubert recognizes that the price needs to drop a bit for their industry to make a profit and for customers to actually purchase their product, he is still quite optimistic and confident that this could be a breakthrough. This could potentially be yet another major innovation that technology has enabled us to create to further help many people in our community, especially people who may have gone through a lot of pain and sadness.

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