How Seating Manufacturers Address Microclimate
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Just as every consumer who uses complex rehab seating is different, manufacturers have found different ways to manage microclimate, that interface between consumer and seating system that can result in heat buildup and retention, as well as moisture from sweating.
Lingering moisture is bad news for skin, so many seating designs and materials focus on breathability and evaporation. Dissipating moisture can be accomplished in different ways.
Got You Covered
Perhaps the most common way that seating manufacturers manage microclimate is through careful design and construction of cushion covers. Complex rehab cushions typically have outer covers or outer cover options specially created to facilitate breathability and to expedite evaporation.
For example, Stealth Products recently introduced Coolcore to select cushions in its seating line. Described as a “thermoregulation fabric,” Coolcore’s four-way stretch provides moisture wicking, moisture transportation and moisture evaporation properties to help maintain a drier microclimate.
Check out Mobility Management’s September Cushion Comparo, and you’ll find breathable cushion covers offered by multiple manufacturers. “Moisture-resistant, high-stretch, breathable Startex”
describes Invacare Corp.’s Matrx Libra. Ki Mobility’s Axiom SP Fluid’s cover is described this way: “Super 4-way stretch Lycra outer cover to reduce surface tension. Outer cover has spacer fabric layer to provide microclimatic airflow.”
Another way to manage microclimate is by introducing air into that environment.
Aquila Corp.’s Softech cushion offers a “moisture control unit”: a powered fan, embedded within the cushion, that’s activated when the cushion’s alternating air bladders are inflated.
Sunrise Medical’s JAY J3 HV back has an insert with micro fans to provide ventilation and a gentle heating system. The insert was engineered to optimize airflow throughout the hardshell back. The back has three ventilation holes, two micro fans and fast-drying, breathable fabric for clients to feel cool and refreshed throughout the day.
While most microclimate management centers around reducing heat buildup and encouraging moisture evaporation, introducing heat can be helpful in cold temperatures as well — or simply when a wheelchair user transitions from a hot day outdoors to an air-conditioned room.
“For someone who struggles with temperature control, that can be a drastic temperature swing,” said Barbara Bowden, Associate Product Manager of Seating & Custom Seating for Sunrise Medical. “It can cause shivering and make them uncomfortable. With a gentle heating force, the client will be more comfortable outdoors on cold days and in over air-conditioned rooms.”
Management by Design
Another strategy is to build microclimate management right into the cushion’s or backrest’s design.
For example, Supracor’s Stimulite honeycomb is antibacterial and antifungal, while also providing ventilation via the structure of the honeycomb itself. (The machine-washable honeycomb cushions also dry quickly).
Many manufacturers place cutouts in the backrest shell to provide ventilation — as a bonus, those cutouts also typically reduce backrest weight. And some back systems — such as Symmetric Designs’ Free Form Seating and Matrix Seating USA’s products — combine ventilation with robust adjustability to accommodate clients who need high levels of complex postural support.
As Symmetric Designs’ Executive VP Sam Hannah, ATP, said: “Free Form is a completely ventilated seating shell, and when covered in Stimulite, provides a completely ventilated seating system. Heat and moisture are dissipated through the cover (air mesh), padding (honeycomb Stimulite) and shell (modular clamp and connector array). The open design facilitates air circulation and provides a healthier environment for skin by allowing their supported posture to be exposed to air flow.”
The bottom line: There are many ways to manage microclimate via technology — which should feel like a breath of fresh air to wheelchair users.
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Mobility Management.