CRT Technology Showcase

Permobil F3/F5: Positioning & Power Without Compromise

Permobil F3/F5Permobil’s new F3 and F5 power wheelchairs prompted rapid-fire questions at the International Seating Symposium.

“Where is the center post? How is that seat elevating?”

“Is that anterior tilt?”

“Where’s the stander? I heard there was a new standing chair.”

When ATPs and clinicians heard the answers, the doubletakes began in earnest.

A Domino Effect

The F3 and F5 power bases — more on the names later — are so different from previous Permobil offerings that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Unless you first speak to David Algood, Permobil’s global portfolio manager. Algood knows exactly how to start: With Per Uddén, Permobil’s founder.

Uddén famously said, “Every person with a disability has the right to have his or her needs compensated as far as possible by aids with the same technical standard as those we all use in our everyday lives.”

So now, Algood notes, “If we see that statement as the way we should develop our products when it comes to maximizing the user’s independence and providing the most amount of time in a particular wheelchair — then certain features are really emphasized from a what-we-want-the-engineers-to-do standpoint.”

Algood describes a domino effect — one that started intentionally, but then gained happy momentum so the end results were beyond even what Permobil engineers had first envisioned.

The design team focused, Algood says, on maximizing the time that a Permobil user could spend in his/her wheelchair.

“When you think about maximum time in the chair, then we want a new power base with a great suspension so we could maximize ride comfort and minimize the daily bumps and jarring effects of driving a power wheelchair a full day,” he explains.

Of course, spending more time in the chair requires the consumer to be as functional as possible.

Permobil F3/F5“When we talk about maximizing what users can do in the wheelchair, and designing it to offer a whole different level of functional reach opportunities than what they’ve had in the past, something like providing anterior tilt — even though it’s not a funded category — seemed very interesting,” Algood says.

You can see how the dominoes lined up: If consumers are in their new chairs all day, they’ll need to be able to reach forward. They’ll need a stable, comfortable ride. They’ll want to navigate their environments efficiently, and perform position changes easily. Because being able to stay in a wheelchair all day is only beneficial if its user can get things done.

No Compromise

Permobil’s engineers were faced with a range of requirements as they approached the drawing board. Along with the main goal — more time, more functionality in the chair — came very specific requests. For instance: Find a way to eliminate anti-tippers for some users, because Permobil team members had noticed how often consumers tried to remove anti-tippers themselves.

“We wanted to make this base much more stable especially in the forward direction because we wanted to be able to remove anti-tippers in certain situations,” Algood says. Doing so would “give users a smaller, more compact frontwheel-drive footprint and give them the ability to climb over things better when they get outside. And anti-tippers wouldn’t get in the way when they transfer in and out of the wheelchairs.”

To attain that stability, engineers had to relocate the batteries farther back in the chassis — which made a traditional singlecenter-post seating design impossible.

“When they put the batteries there,” Algood says, “they said, ‘We’ve got to come up with a new way to tilt and elevate.’ They came up with this anterior/posterior tilt module, and then they realized: We can do all these other fantastic things with this.”

The list of F3/F5 “fantastic things” is long. But briefly:

  • The addition of anterior tilt (30° optional for the F3, 45° for the F5).
  • Elimination of anti-tippers in many cases (anti-tippers may be needed based on a consumer’s weight or top-speed desires).
  • 14" of seat elevation, a 75-percent increase… and it’s faster, too. Consumers can attain that 14" of elevation in almost the same time it took to elevate 8".
  • A standing system on the F5 that retains a full range of posterior tilt. Permobil calls it “Standing without compromise” because the trade-offs, such as making do with a smaller range of tilt, are gone. That includes seat-to-floor height compromise: The F5 with the standing system retains the same “very low, consistent 17.5"
    seat-to-floor height across all platforms we’re introducing,” Algood says. And it now has a 300-lb. weight capacity.

Simplicity Redefined

It was important to the product development team that the new bases not create new challenges at the ATP/clinician level.

It starts with the naming convention. Algood says Permobil wanted “more intuitive” names for the new bases. Thus, the F3 is a front-wheel-drive Group 3 base. The F5 is also front-wheel drive; it’s a Group 4 product that will replace the C500.

Permobil F3/F5Permobil is also going from three-digit numbers (e.g., 300, 400, 500) to one-digit numbers — and just the two bases instead of the previous three. The F3 and F5 will be the basis for future power chairs of different drive configurations, which will make service and maintenance easier for techs.

It’s telling that the topic of graphics comes up late in an F3/F5 conversation thanks to all the other factors there are to talk about. But the graphics on the F3 and F5 are drastically, sleekly different.

“Jonas Jähkel, the industrial design manager who’s responsible for our brand, said he was going for an iconic look,” Algood says. “You don’t really hear about that with medically necessary power wheelchairs.”

It works: The bases look smaller, though Algood says they’re comparable to past offerings, excluding the elimination of the anti-tippers.

“People believe it looks slimmer because of all the black,” Algood notes. “And adding the accent pieces in color makes the colors that are there pop out more than they did before.”

Ultimately, though, Algood says the top goals for the F3 and F5 included ride quality and stability — crucial, for instance, for Eric Legrand, the former Rutgers University football player with a high level spinal cord injury. Legrand was one of the field trial users for the new power bases.

“He uses a mini proportional joystick with his lips to drive his wheelchair,” Algood says. “To be in the chair all day long, we wanted to have great suspension on it. But he also needed to have great stability and head control while he’s trying to drive it over various terrains.”

Those abilities haven’t always been possible in the same base, but Algood believes they should be.

“It’s our responsibility as a manufacturer to maximize the independence of the people using our products,” he says. “Everybody deserves to be as independent and mobile as possible. If you start from that point, the way we approached these products, and their designs, make a lot of sense.”

Editor’s Note: At press time, Permobil was awaiting final FDA approval for the F3 and F5.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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