Leveraged Freedom Chair in India

The Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC) is an innovative lever-powered mobility aid, created specifically with the needs of developing world users in mind, that can achieve speeds up to 75% greater than other wheelchairs and boasts superior off-road performance and maneuverability. Developed at MIT within D-Lab, the LFC was chosen by D-Lab Scale-Ups as an advanced Phase III project. A new entitity, Global Research Innovation and Technology (GRIT), was created by D-Lab alums to bring the LFC to market using a model of centralized manufacture paired with local assembly and central distribution through assistave device NGOs. For GRIT's pilot project with the LFC, they are working with Jaipur Foot in partnership with manufacturer Pinnacle Industries to conduct a pilot distribution of 100 LFCs prior to a full production run. Jaipur Foot, an Indian NGO, is the world's largest disability organization and will be one of the first distributors of the LFC. This summer, GRIT's executive director, Tish Scolnik and director of engineering, Mario Bollini have been in India working with these partners. Excerpts from the GRIT Blog follow:

Greetings from Pithampur

Posted on July 5, 2012 by tish

Greetings from Pithampur. Haven’t heard of it? We hadn’t either until we started working here. Pithampur is an industrial town outside of Indore in Madhya Pradesh. There wasn’t much here until the government started offering great incentives to companies to set up manufacturing facilities. Now the place is booming, quite literally, with the sounds of dozens of factories.

We’re fortunate to be working with a great company called Pinnacle Industries. Over the past few months they have been developing all the tooling (dies, jigs, fixtures, etc) that will be used for the production of the LFC. It was great to catch up with guys in the tool room and see what they have been up to. They’ve been busy, that’s for sure! They have finished almost all of the tools and have started producing some of the smaller parts. We discussed the plans for our upcoming field demonstration with Jaipur Foot and pilot in Haiti and everybody is on board. Production will start cranking within the week and we’re really looking forward to seeing the chairs come together.

Posted on July 8, 2012 by mario

Things are going great at the factory: Pinnacle is chugging out parts for the initial batch of LFCs for Jaipur Foot and we’re working with them to prep the engineering for full scale production.

Tish and I spent some time trying to maximize how many LFCs we can fit into a shipping container.  While the chair is great, it doesn’t currently fold, limiting our packing density in its fully assembled configuration. Balancing tradeoffs between assembly time and shipping efficiency, we tried a couple of different configurations.

Then we started to think inside the box, literally, and came up with this configuration, which lets us ship over 200 standard sized LFCs in a 40′ shipping container:

We are working with UPS to ship a pilot batch of LFCs to Haiti as part of our project with the Inter American Development Bank.  They have been a great resource to help us figure out our project logistics.  We’ll be shipping ten of those boxes soon!

We worked Saturday and then headed into Indore for an evening some R&R (and tasty Chinese food) before a busy week of LFC assembly.

It’s Jig Time

Posted on July 11, 2012 by mario

I’ve been working the past few days on cleaning up the alignment of our manufacturing jig for the seat frame.  The initial prototype jig was a little bit out of whack, causing the test seat frames coming out of the frame to be crooked on the chairs. We decided to fabricate a new master chair frame and modify the jig around it. This has been pretty time consuming, we need to make sure everything is just right or else the new jig will also spit out crooked chairs.  The work will pay off, once the jig is made we can spit out quality chair frames very quickly.  Hopefully as soon as tomorrow.

Preparing for the arrival

Posted on July 12, 2012 by tish

While Mario has been working at the factory this week, I’ve gone ahead to Jaipur to prepare for the arrival of the 100 LFCs we’ll be distributing for our field demonstration with Jaipur Foot. We’ve decided to start with a batch of 25 that we’ll distribute together. This will be an opportunity to work together to develop training materials and to ensure that distribution can carry on when we are not around. Which will be really important as we start to scale in the upcoming months. Amos and I started off the week meeting with Jaipur Foot and talking through the logistics of the field demonstration. Now we’re all on the same page and anxiously awaiting the arrival of the chairs!

We’re using the field demonstration to iron out the logistics of distribution and to ensure that the quality coming off the production line meets our standards. But in addition to these logistical issues, we also have a number of administrative issues to deal with. So I put on my administrator cap and got cracking. First on my list was banking– if possible, we’d like to avoid unnecessarily moving money across borders if we don’t have to. So I visited several banks to find out about setting up an account. Turns out this is actually quite difficult as a foreigner, let alone a foreign company. Special shoutout to Sandeep at Citibank here in Jaipur who patiently answered all my questions. It looks like we may need to register GRIT over here, or find another company that we can sell our products through. This will be an interesting search.

Next up was marketing– Pinnacle would like to better tell our story to its various customers and has requested a series of posters and brochures. Normally I’d just head to some place like Kinko’s to get this stuff printed, but alas, there is no Kinko’s in Jaipur. I mentioned this to JD, the owner of the guesthouse where I’m staying, and he quickly made an introduction to the company he uses to print his materials. I got to review a dozen different brochure styles of varying shapes, folding parameters, and paper thickness. You’ll get to see the one I selected when it’s done printing! And we’ll have a set of nice vinyl posters coming soon as well.

Doing all of this really firmed up the importance of us having an on-the-ground employee. The search is on.