3D printed wheelchairs, and shoes

A month ago I got my new wheelchair. It is a personally fitted TiLITE AERO T. It is my first time to have such a personalized chair that’s not an off the shelf one.

I won’t discuss here pros and cons of custom made wheelchairs, however what was amusing was the fact that you need to get an appointment with someone from the dealership who will take your measurements, then you have to wait for 6 weeks until you receive the chair because it is hand made in US, and you pay tons of money. The starting price is $2500 and with every option you can reach $5000 easily. You can get part or all of it if you are insured, if not you will pay a hefty sum.

My new TiLITE. The frame is one piece of aluminum made of smaller pieces welded together.

I don’t know what’s the cost structure of making one of these, but I bet most of the cost is in the labor to build it. After all, aluminum isn’t that expensive, and most of the other parts – such as the wheels & paint – are from other manufacturers.

My doctor recommended that I should get custom made shoes that take the shape of my feet to better support them. I made an appointment with the shoemaker, they made a cast on my foot and quickly removed it before it gets dry and solid. Then few weeks later they came with some basic plastic models to ensure they fit. Then after some iterations back and forth, I have to wait another 6 weeks before the shoes are ready.

Both cases of the wheelchair and the shoes made perfect sense for 3D printers, & scanners. I think it is inevitable the next generations of wheelchair frames will be 3D printed. After all their sizes isn’t that big & they are constructed of one material, either aluminum or carbon fiber. The labor and time needed to make one chair will go significantly down, and it will make it way more possible for people in other countries to afford one. After all, if I weren’t living in Europe I wouldn’t be able to afford one. This costs almost a year of a software engineer’s salary in Egypt.

The case will be similar for the shoes, getting the right shape & dimensions will no longer require a cast and few weeks of preparations for one iteration. Imagine putting your foot inside a 3D scanner attached to a printer that would print exactly the shape of your shoe. Then the shoemaker can use that model to build the final product (Shoes are more complex because multiple types of materials are involved).

I wished I had the ability & willingness to build one, because I can see the opportunity, and potential for such a thing.