Jan 17, 2016 | By Alec
It’s sometimes easy to forget how fragile we all are and how easily our lives can be forever changed through injury. Just look at cycling enthusiast and part-time racer Tom Wheeler. Back in 2011, the young Brit’s life was changed dramatically when he suffered a horrific injury to his right arm while racing down a hill, and was left paralyzed and almost unable carry on with his passion. However, through the help of a custom-made 3D printed brace developed with the help of PDR (the International Centre for Design Research) and product design student Poppy Farrugia, Tom can now once again hold his steering wheel with both hands and cycle to his heart’s content.
However, Tom also wasn’t the kind of guy who just accepts horrific setbacks. While competing in a downhill mountain biking event in the UK in 2011, he fell badly after hitting a branch and suffered a Brachial Plexus Injury. “On the 26th March 2011 I took part in what seemed to be an average weekends racing. Little did I know that on this day my life would be changed for ever,“ he said of the accident. Having been mountain biking since the age of three and expecting a bright cycling career ahead of him, this was particularly harsh as it attacked his very identity.
From the first day he was already thinking about solutions. “I remember being in the hospital thinking of ways to make a mechanical system to assist my riding,” he says. Co-Founding NotBroken, a platform that offers advice and inspiration to people living with disabilities, he also quickly took up one-handed cycling – not as adventurous, but better than nothing. It did, however, left him unbalanced, so he began looking for a solution. Fortunately, he did have a couple of things going for him: a degree in Wearable Technology and a job at Mojo. “Chris Porter (Mojo Director) and I were chatting one day back at the Mojo HQ and I mentioned my ideas. The next thing I knew I was sat in the Ability Clinic in London with Chris waiting to meet Justin Rix. This was the first stage of creating the Mojo arm brace, a carbon fibre sleeve assisted with a custom Fox damper,” he explains.
With their help, he designed a carbon shoulder and wrist support that featured a multitude of titanium parts and a custom Fox damper that would secure his arm to the handlebars and keep on riding. Unfortunately, it was very expensive and unpractical, as it was locked in place. Through PDR he therefore teamed up with Poppy Farrugia, a Product Designer and student who helped him design a more practical alternative. As she explains, the design they came up with together was fully intended to encourage recovery speed, while also enabling bilateral arm use.
As the duo explain, that brace design was not only prototyped with the help of 3D printing technology, but also features 3D printed parts. “I have a 3-D printer and Tom has a 3-D printer so I can send him designs and he can test them the really quickly,” Poppy explained. What’s more, feedback from Tom was easily incorporated back into the design. „The brace is always progressing and is nearly at a stage where we can think about a time where we can produce them for others,” Tom explained. More about the 3D printing successes can be seen in the clip above.
Together, they came up with a practical 3D printed design that has even enabled Tom to race competitively again, having entered the Welsh Gravity Enduro last summer. “Everything changes when I have the arm brace on. It gives my arm all the support I need when it's strapped to my bike, it makes me feel like nothing has happened. The brace offers me way more control than riding one handed, but my ability is still restricted,” he said of his success. “ Before I knew it I was hitting up all my old trails, but I was hitting them at a good pace. It felt so good to be back on my bike, better than ever! I feel very comfortable on the bigger wheels, it’s given me extra confidence and my riding has reached a level I had felt it never would again.”
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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