January 3, 2015

Happy 2015! We had an exciting end of the year with our first field trip! On Monday, December 22nd, most our team ventured three hours to Steven's Point, Wisconsin to visit Ki Mobility, a manual wheelchair manufacturing company. We met Tom, the Vice President of  Product Development, and Jacki, who gave us an eye-opening tour of the company. We were amazed to find that they did not have machines programmed to build the wheelchairs, but actual people building each one. They explained how although materials were shipped in from different countries, they manually construct and customize their wheelchairs to each individual client; since everyone has different needs.

Jacki gave us a product catalog with information about the various parts and combinations they produce for clients, giving an example of how choosing a wheelchair is like choosing a new car or pair of shoes: one wants to be comfortable and satisfied with the product they will use every day.  From the color, to the depth of the seat, to the size of the wheel, everything is designed for the comfort and mobility of the person.
We learned about the importance of weight in the functionality of the wheelchairs. Different pieces add weight, usually ounces that add up. There is a huge difference between ounces and pounds, especially when the person using the wheelchair is independent. The person needs to be able to take apart the chair, lift it, and put it back together with relative ease. The Rogue that Ki produces, is specifically designed to be lightweight and disassembled for transportation.
Tom and Jacki showed and explained other types of wheelchairs produced at Ki, all dependent on individual needs. The Focus CR chairs are similar to the Rogue, but have options for rotating the person's center of mass and alleviating pressure from constantly sitting in the same position. With a press of a pedal from the behind the chair, the person will comfortably rotate. The Focus CR is most often used by people who are less mobile and require more support for their body.
At noon we were pleasantly surprised to find that they had gotten us pizza! We met Allan, who's worked with Tom for years on new designs for their chairs. He has first hand experience because he uses a wheelchair. We ate pizza and chatted about how they got into the wheelchair business, how they publicize and work with other companies in the industry. We showed our prototype to Tom and Allan and received some great feedback and advice. At that point, Dorothy realized she forgot a notebook for notes so she filled two paper plates with resources and ideas for us to explore.
Before we knew it, it was 2pm and time for us to trek back to Dubuque, filled with knowledge and resources to enhance our prototype. We got a picture with Jacki and Allan and exchanged emails to keep in touch about our device and progress. All in all, a great learning day for our team!

(Pictured: Ki Mobility Product Catalog, business cards, and paper plates)