CRT Technology Showcase

Raising the Bar for Folding Ultralights

Folding UltralightsIf you know TiLite’s TR, a rigid-framed ultralightweight manual chair, the manufacturer’s new TX will seem strikingly familiar.

The “X” in the TX name, of course, refers to the chair’s crossbrace. This is a folding chair, and in design parlance, that means more parts than in a rigid chair. Historically, that’s been a tough truth to hide: Those additional parts result in a design that’s clunkier than the sleek, minimalist lines of today’s rigid ultralights.

But after your first glance at the TX, you’ll wonder: Is that a folding chair?

Translating a Simple Idea Doug Garven, TiLite product development manager, is the industrial designer who created the TR Series 3.

“I was looking at our TR and wanting to figure out a way to make a TR that could fold,” Garven told Mobility Management.

That sounds easy enough to do with TiLite’s signature chair, whose sweeping lines convey rolling elegance. But the premise was the only easy part of this project.

“When you see the TX, it seems like such a simple idea and execution,” Garven admits. “Just put a crossbrace on there, and it folds! But it’s actually a very complicated design in that it’s a TiFit chair — it’s custom made to the user’s individual specifications. That’s where the devil in the details comes in.”

Folding UltralightsTiFit is the manufacturer’s name for the process of building a one-of-a-kind chair for each user. In essence, Garven had to create a design that could accommodate consumers within a wide range of sizes. The new TX offers seat widths from 12" to 20", seat depths of 14" to 20", and accommodates users up to 265 lbs.

For each consumer ordering a TX, Garven says, “Every cross tube length is different. The links that hold the cross tubes to the side frames are different and unique to each chair. Every tube on there is custom.”

And that’s not all. Mimicking the TR’s graceful design required minimizing the appearance of those parts that enabled the TX to fold.

“A folding mechanism adds parts and pieces to a chair,” Garven Raising the Bar for Folding Ultralights says. “Trying to hide them, trying to tuck everything up as close as possible underneath the seat was the aim to emulate the lines of the TR. To do the one, it forced the other.”

The result is astonishing. Once you add a seat cushion to the TX, it’s tough to see the crossbrace unless you’re looking for it. The frame’s remarkable simplicity doesn’t divulge that this chair is a folder.

“Unless you’re looking underneath the chair,” Garven says, “you really don’t see it.”

Raising Expectations for Folding Chairs

Why all the effort to hide the crossbrace and folding mechanism in the first place?

“Just to change the dynamic and perception of a folding chair,” Garven says. “Aesthetically, the cross bracing and folding mechanism add what I like to call design clutter. It takes away from the overall clean lines and aesthetics of the chair, which you typically have with a rigid. For some people, the look of a folding chair was maybe a deterrent. Maybe we’ve now taken that deterrent away.”

Compared to rigid counterparts, folding chairs are expected to look more boxy, to perform less spectacularly because more moving parts equal less rigidity, and to weigh more.

While Garven acknowledges that ride quality in a folding chair cannot attain that of a rigid, he clearly set out to reduce compromise wherever possible — starting with a custom fit.

“The frame is totally built around the individual, whatever dimensions they supply,” he says. “That’s part of our prosthetic-like fit that we pride ourselves on.”

The flip side of that equation, he notes, didn’t make him any friends in the fabrication department.

“Being able to do all the customization that we offer in our TiFit chairs really makes it a challenge on the manufacturing side because every tube on it is unique,” Garven says. “Even the cross tubes, left and right, are not the same length.

“Most manufacturers like to have parts that are alike, tubes that are always the same, cross tubes that are always the same. That way they can stock an inventory of that part, and when the size comes up, they can pull it off the shelf. That’s something that can’t be done with the TX because each part isn’t made until we get an order. Then we plug the numbers into our model, and it generates the tube dimensions. Until then, don’t know what those dimensions are going to be.”

Optimizing Consumer Choice

The TX definitely does not compromise in the clinician/ATP/consumer choice department. You can have a front seat height from 15" to 21", and a rear seat height of 13.5" to 19". Choose 0°, 2° or 4° of camber, a front frame angle of 70°, 80° or 85°, and a center-of-gravity adjustment of 3.75" or fixed.

Folding UltralightsStill think that folding chairs have little curb appeal? The TX offers 23 front-wheel options, 67 rear-wheel options, 15 options for handrims and aesthetic choices that include six titanium frame finishes, 16 frame colors, six color anodize packages and seven Ultrasuede colors.

“Choice matters,” Garven says. “We like our customer, the user, to be able to choose whatever make or model they prefer and give them options to personalize the chair and make it perfectly fitted for their needs.”

One of the major reasons that some consumers prefer folding designs over rigid ones is transportability. “There are people who have learned to get in and out of a car with a folder,” Garven says. “They drive a truck or something with access behind their seat. So they fold the chair and just pull it in behind them. It’s easier than breaking it down and taking the wheels off and pulling it across them to put it in the car.”

The TX’s many details include a spring-loaded footrest that flattens to normal position when being used, then rises in the center when no weight is on it. Once the TX’s owner transfers out of the chair, the footrest “unlocks.” No more reaching down to manually unlock the footrest before folding.

“It’s something that helps make the user’s day easier,” Garven says.

The TX abounds with such details — such as the ability, thanks to the compact, “tucked-under” crossbrace, to pull the rear wheels off for transport, just as you’d do with a rigid chair. Do that, and the transport weight of a 16x16" TX is about 11 lbs.

Consumers are unlikely to immediately notice all this sweating of the engineering and design details — but Garven is fine with some intrigue remaining behind the scenes.

“That’s part of the coolness of what we do,” he says. “It isn’t something that necessarily jumps right off the chair. It might take days or weeks for someone to recognize a design feature or detail, or they may never notice it. What they will notice is how precisely fitted their TiLite is to them, how much this improves their mobility and allows them to focus on their daily lives.”

This article originally appeared in the May 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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