Motivation is a global disability charity that provides wheelchairs, training, and services to disabled people in low- and middle-income countries. More than 75 million people worldwide need a wheelchair, and 80% live in developing countries. Motivation partnered with the National Composites Centre (NCC) to design an affordable, comfortable, lightweight, and hygienic wheelchair seat pan concept durable enough to handle tough environmental conditions while being made from sustainable materials that could be sourced locally in these countries.
The NCC and Motivation teams worked together to design and manufacture a prototype composite wheelchair seat pan that can be molded to the user needs, virtually eliminating the stretching of the fabric, and the degradation of the plywood base of past wheelchair models. The NCC’s low-cost tooling solution helps keep manufacturing costs down. Gurit flax fiber and Sicomin Infugreen resin were used in the design allowing for cost savings as the materials require a temperature and cure time that is viable in warm climates. While the prototype seat pan was manufactured at the NCC using resin infusion, the design is flexible enough to allow for wet lay-up to be used for lower-skilled production. The flax material can also be easily replaced with other engineering natural fibers available around the globe, such as jute in Asia or sisal in South America, lowering shipping costs and providing local jobs and economic development opportunities.