Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Material’s startup accelerator, Growth Garage concluded the High-Temperature Carbon-Fiber 3D printing challenge in December 2021. In this challenge, the participants were asked to incorporate the strength and properties of the KyronMax® carbon-fiber 3D printing filament with the flexibility and sustainability of 3D printing in their design.
The challenge focused on three main criteria: technical and commercial feasibility, scalability and sustainability. We are composing a series of articles featuring the finalists and winners of the challenge, so that the readers get a comprehensive view about their product, motivation and vision for the future.
Alan and Alberto Esses: Esses
In the final article of our series, we feature the Community Award Winners from Boston, USA. The team comprising two brothers Alan (a mechanical engineering student at Northeastern University) and Alberto (an industrial designer currently working at Tesla) are developing an extraordinary and life-changing product. Inspired by the story of Sophia Malthus, who became a quadriplegic (paralyzed limbs) after a horseback riding accident, they decided to address the issues related to a standard wheelchair. "While surfing through videos on YouTube, we stumbled upon a video by Sophia where she talked about her challenges of being confined to her bed and her wheelchair. She talked about her current wheelchair and explained how the pressure points and aesthetics made it quite uncomfortable to perform daily activities. Her story motivated us to build a customized wheelchair and make her life easier. We reached out to Sophia through Instagram and proposed a collaboration of building her a customized wheelchair," began Alan.
Feedback based design
The wheelchair would be completely customized based on Sophia’s requirements and feedback. An iterative design methodology has been implemented by the Esses brothers by involving Sophia in the entire design process. "We would contact Sophia every couple of weeks to show her our designs and iterate further based on her feedback. An important aspect for us to consider in our designs is the limited mobility in her hands. She has very little strength in her hands and requires power assisted wheels. We contacted Alber, a wheelchair manufacturer and told them about our project. They were kind enough to donate two sets of power assisted wheels, each priced at $30,000. Since we got two pairs, the idea was to give her one for her current wheelchair and save one for the future," continued Alan.
Carbon fiber is perfect for the wheelchair
Most conventional wheelchairs in the market are made from metals. Typically, manufacturers try to reduce weight by incorporating aluminum in their products. "Even with the lightest metals, wheelchairs can weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kgs). For someone like Sophia, who has very limited mobility in her limbs, it is very difficult for her to carry out daily activities. For instance, it is challenging for her to lift the wheelchair when she’s entering her car. The metal wheelchairs also have many pinch points in the folding mechanism. We want to optimize this design with KyronMax® to create a much lighter and stronger wheelchair," explained Alan.Another problem faced by people in wheelchairs is a lack of accessibility to certain places. For instance, the user tends to have difficulty judging distances in narrow lanes and alleys and ends up scratching or damaging parts of their wheelchair. If the metal is replaced by 3D printed carbon-fiber, it would be easier to replace individual components instead of the entire wheelchair. "Switching to 3D printing would help us achieve a higher modularity, especially during transportation. We want to print the wheelchair in part such that it would be easier to dismantle individual components and make it more portable. Adopting 3D printing with carbon-fiber would enable us to achieve our goal of modularity, strength and weight reduction," said Alan.
Focus on improving ergonomics in the next phase
The next phase of Sophia’s wheelchair would focus on the ergonomics of the wheelchair’s seat. The sedentariness that comes along with using a wheelchair results in pressure sores. This is due to the pinching of veins and arteries for an extended period. "Sophia is unable to move and adjust her weight distribution from time to time. I am researching for ways to create a custom cushion for the wheelchair which would adjust her weight distribution from time to time. The idea is to incorporate pressure rollers in the seat which would aid in the weight distribution and prevent pressure sores," continued Alan.
"For now, our one and only goal is to deliver a fully functional customized wheelchair for Sophia and make her life a little easier. This accelerator program would bring us closer towards realizing this goal," concluded Alan.
About Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials and Growth Garage
Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials (MCAM) is a leading global manufacturer of high-performance thermoplastic materials in the form of semi-finished products and finished parts. Our specialty engineering composites can outperform metals and are already used in a wide range of applications, from aeronautics to bioprocessing.
Growth Garage is the business startup accelerator of MCAM. Our mission is to support and nurture new ideas using our advanced technologies, technical expertise and advanced composite materials. We are offering the opportunity for engineers and innovators to pitch us their ideas. The winners of our challenges will receive our full support, expertise and materials to help develop their projects from initial prototype to final product.
Growth Garage invites engineers, designers, entrepreneurs, innovators, start-ups, companies and students to submit their ideas, technologies, products and services as part of the 2022 Circular Economy Challenge, with four prize winners receiving up to $25,000 worth of support.
Discover how three pioneering engineering businesses took their ideas from pitch to product in record time. You’ll share their experiences, explore the challenges they faced and how sustainability drove their innovative solutions.