Highly Commended 2022

Rove Wheelchair

Highly Commended for Circular Design and Sustainability. Ryan Tilley / Bryce Alman / Keith Klein

The ROVE Wheelchair is the world’s first 3D-printed titanium wheelchair. It is bespoke & ultra-lightweight for increased independence for wheelchair users.

The Rove Wheelchair is the world’s first 3D printed titanium wheelchair. The unique manufacturing process enables each wheelchair to be designed and custom-made to the exact measurements of the user, taking into account their unique disability and requirements. The Rove Wheelchair challenges the way a wheelchair is perceived, from a traditional stark and functional medical device, to a coveted object much like a high-end bicycle or automotive vehicle is viewed.

Design Brief:

Current wheelchair designs have several inherent issues. Poor fitment and heavy, bulky wheelchairs lead to discomfort and physical issues such as skin problems and longer-term body strain, ultimately reducing the independence of the user. Additionally, a lack of design aesthetics has a wheelchair being seen for all the wrong reasons, often seriously impacting the user’s confidence. Rove responded to this gap in the market by utilising cutting edge technologies of 3D-printed titanium and carbon fibre to design a sleek, eye catching wheelchair that is bespoke and ultra-lightweight.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The design process began with research from three key stakeholders; wheelchair users, occupational therapists and carers. This research involved online questionnaires and 1:1 interviews with over 140 people from various countries. The finding of this research informed the design direction and key focus criteria of the wheelchair. These being:

  • Comfort
  • Lightweight
  • Durability
  • Custom-Built
  • Adjustability

The early research and interviews influenced many of the wheelchairs' features and options. One of these is the patented Rove ‘flipchip’ axle adjustment feature that enables an adjustable centre of gravity post-manufacture. This ensures that the wheelchair can always be the perfect fit even if the initial measurements are slightly incorrect, and also accomodate for someone’s condition changing over time ensuring that the wheelchair is suitable for longer.

All features and design assumptions were tested with a range of different wheelchair users, occupational therapists and carers using an iterative design process consisting of 12 prototype wheelchairs before the wheelchair and key features were ready for production. In final preparation for production, the wheelchair has been tested and exceeded the Australian Standards for wheelchairs for a user weight of 110kg and also has been registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The Rove Wheelchair is now being manufactured in Melbourne, Australia and has had phenomenal feedback and uptake from the disability community.

Design Excellence

From the outset the Rove Wheelchair was designed in collaboration with wheelchair users to ensure the development of a superior product and a seamless user experience. The application of metal 3D printing for wheelchairs has allowed for new design opportunities in lightweight geometry, integrated features and has enabled a mass-customisation process for wheelchairs.

The 3D printing process and overall manufacturing process developed by Rove provides the ability for each wheelchair to be easily custom-made to suit the individual. Paired with an individualised sales process, the customer is able to configure their wheelchair’s geometry and feel using over 20 different measurements to suit their body, choose from over 200 options and feature and customise the look of the finished product to suit their personality and style. All of this with a target lead time of 4-weeks.

The thin-walled, honeycomb structure of the 3D printed lugs, combined with filament-wound carbon fibre tube enables the Rove wheelchair to be extremely lightweight, typically producing a frame weight of under 2kg. These weights are able to be achieved without sacrificing durability due to the deliberate use of titanium material in all the impact and high wear areas of the chair, ensuring that the wheelchair is reliable and will serve the individual for years to come.

Design Innovation

The fitment of a wheelchair can be likened to the fitment of a shoe. If the shoe is too large or two small, it will likely cause blisters and other discomfort affecting the individual. For wheelchair users the effects of an ill-fitting wheelchair are much more severe, including pressure sores, premature shoulder wear-out and other factors limiting their independence. The ability to create custom geometry quickly and easily has enormous benefits in increasing the overall long-term health and well-being of the wheelchair user while still being commercially viable.

The fitment and suitability of the wheelchair can change overtime due to a number of reasons. Hence the Rove Wheelchair has incorporated their patented ‘flipchip’ technology which allows the position of the rear wheel to be changed quickly and easily by simply removing and swapping axle receive inserts from the frame. This can change the centre of gravity, camber angle and wheel offset to ensure that the wheelchair can remain suitable for a longer periods of time.

The Rove Wheelchair also utilises the manufacturing freedoms that 3D printing allows and have incorporated and hidden many features into the wheelchair frames. These include integrated brake mounts, integrated clamps. This benefits wheelchair users by increasing safety and functionality with no pinch points. It also enables the external surfaces of the wheelchair to be sleek and smooth minimising catch points and sharp edges that would cause harm or damage the surface of a car for example when the user is transferring in.

Design Impact

The design impact of this product for wheelchair users and the community is enormous. As mentioned above, the Rove Wheelchair is bespoke and custom-made for each user. A custom fitted wheelchair enables wheelchair users to have improved independence, better quality of life and improved confidence. In addition it has significant long-term health benefits by reducing the chances of issues such as pressure sores and prolonging shoulder wear-out which are common challenges for wheelchair users.

The reduction in the prevalence of these issues and improved independence has massive positive outcomes for the individual and also less reliance on the community and health system. In addition, the significantly lighter Rove Wheelchairs are able to further improve independence of individuals by enabling them to be more mobile, transfer and lift the chair into places they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. This again helps to prolong the onset of shoulder wear out, make easy push more efficient and make the day-to-day use easier and less energy required. The manufacturing process enables wheelchairs that do get damaged to be repaired relatively easily by replacing frame members instead of scrapping the whole frames.

The 3D printing process enables 99.9% material utilisation with all unused titanium powder being used to build the next wheelchair. As the wheelchair frame is made using only two materials, for the end of life the wheelchair can be disassembled easily and the carbon fibre and titanium can be separated for recycling.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Unlike conventional machining processes, the additive manufacturing process used for the Rove wheelchair uses only the material required. Hence the Rove Wheelchair’s have a material utilisation rate of 99.9% for the titanium material. With all unused powder being captured and used to build the next wheelchair. The construction of the Rove Wheelchair also enables easy repair to the frame in the event of damage. With just the damaged area able to be replaced rather than the whole chair frame being discarded.

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