New Discoveries

A Road Less Traveled: Rifton's TRAM Wins MDEA Gold Medal

Rifton Equipment TRAMThe complex rehab technology community has been familiar with — and has been admiring — Rifton Equipment’s TRAM for a little while now. The multi-purpose device lifts, transfers, stands, supports gait training…even weighs consumers thanks to a built-in scale.

In Mobility Management’s July Best Picks issue, Kelly Mackenhausen, an RTS with Wheelchairs Plus in Grand Rapids, Mich., lauded the TRAM’s ability to meet the needs of a real-life consumer who “needed several devices, such as a transfer device, stander, gait trainer and scale.”

Mackenhausen explained, “His large stature and instability had halted gait training, required two to three staff for transfers, and weight monitoring was impossible. The TRAM has allowed him to resume gait training, transfer safely and be weighed, all while being safely supported in one device that can be operated with one staff instead of two or three. The scale also allows physical therapists to measure weight-bearing progress.”

Now the TRAM is garnering even more praise, thanks to a gold-medal win at the Medical Device Excellence Awards (MDEA) this summer.

Serving a Real Need

The MDEA program, now 15 years old, says it recognizes “significant advances in medical product design and engineering that improve the quality of healthcare delivery and accessibility.”

Rifton competed in the Rehabilitation & Assistive Technology Products category and took home the category’s top prize. Among its well-known competitors: A remote patient-monitoring system designed and supplied by Samsung Mobile, and a pediatric CPAP mask from ResMed.

Awards program officials noted that Rifton — headquartered in New York state’s Hudson Valley — was the smallest manufacturer to win this year.

Stephen B. Wilcox, Ph.D., one of this year’s judges, said of Rifton’s entry, “What impressed me about the TRAM is that it serves a real need. It’s a clever and thoughtful use of existing technology that really empowers both the patient and caregiver. I haven’t seen anything this innovative in adaptive equipment in a long time.”

A Long List of Needs

What may be equally innovative is how the TRAM was created.

As is typical with product creation in the complex rehab technology niche, Rifton Design Manager Kirk Wareham said the manufacturer very seriously considered opinions from around the industry.

“We get a constant flow of design input from clients, therapists and distributors, and from attending exhibits and giving in-services,” he explained. “This input is carefully logged and tracked and is what drives our design queue — what projects our design teams will be assigned to next.”

Wareham added that over the years, Rifton had accumulated large amounts of information on a list of needs, including assisted sit-to-stand for clients; toileting; caregiver protection from injuries; and simplifying and speeding up the transfer of larger or heavier clients.

“Using all this input as our guide, we identified a list of key features, boundaries, core functions, and benefits of the potential product and then ranked them in order of importance,” Wareham explained. “This exercise guaranteed that not only would our product answer the many needs of clients and caregivers, but it would also provide us with the best sales return on the time we invested in the project.”

So far, that process might sound fairly familiar. The creation process at Rifton, however, takes a very different path once product design actually gets underway.

Forging Its Own Path

Rifton Equipment is one of the businesses run by the Bruderhof (“Place of Brothers”) community in Rifton, N.Y. Bruderhof members do not draw salaries or own private property. They live communally, with everyone contributing to the running of the community and to the well-being of neighbors and family.

That faith and way of life extends to their product development, including the creation of the TRAM.

“Designing medical products is a complicated endeavor,” Wareham said. “No single person has all the necessary skills to do this alone.”

Rather than have a project manager who dictated his or her decisions to subordinates, Wareham said the TRAM benefitted from a different methodology.

“Our design process is based on a multi-functional team approach,” he said. “Team members must develop a harmonious and cooperative working relationship. One member’s enthusiasm ignites that of his teammates. Open-minded ideas, perhaps even through heated debate, gain depth and value as they bounce from one team member to the next. Information flows in all directions if team members are really listening.”

The process, Wareham added, does not require or even benefit from complete uniformity in thinking.

“Someone’s favorite bubble pops under the honest scrutiny of his teammates,” he pointed out. “Challenging a teammate’s ideas is not challenging their intellect or them as an individual. Challenging basic assumptions can lead to breakthroughs and consensus. Strong emphasis on the concept phase, the whiteboarding and refining of ideas before they are set in stone, will not only produce a better product but will move us faster toward the finish line. Every important decision is made by consensus.”

The end result: a device that fulfills so many different needs that it’s clearly in a diff erent category than traditional patient lifts.

“It is vital to provide customers with the best long-term value for their money,” Wareham said. “Versatility is a primary driver of that value. Providing versatile and durable products is our goal since it offers the best result for us and our customers.”

This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

Rolling Dynamics, Rolling Resistance &  Optimizing Wheeled Prosthetics