Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, May 2, 2017

South Dakota Groups to Develop Testing Lab for International Humanitarian Organization

From left to right: Dalton Kuehl, senior mechanical engineering, Tyler Schoening, senior, mechanical engineering, Padyn Huschka, senior, mechanical engineering, Cody Vollmar, senior, mechanical engineering, Michael Kelly, senior, mechanical engineering, Jared Carstens, senior, mechanical engineering.



RAPID CITY, S.D. (May 2, 2017) – Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM), a world leader in mobility solutions for people with disabilities in developing countries, announced a partnership with The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD Mines) and Rapid City, South Dakota-based RPM and Associates, Inc. (RPM) to construct a whole wheelchair test lab at Free Wheelchair Mission’s world headquarters in Irvine, California.

The test lab is designed to propel wheelchairs over repeated obstacles while continuously monitoring stress, strain, accelerations, and temperature rise due to friction. The obstacles will be designed to simulate the same types of obstacles that wheelchair users encounter in developing world conditions.

Dr. Daniel Dolan, Director of the Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing and Production at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology said, “The bright minds here at SD Mines are enthusiastic about providing engineering and manufacturing support for this program, and assisting with the creation of the new testing system for FWM’s wheelchairs. We are honored to be involved.”

Dr. Don Schoendorfer, Founder and President of FWM, explained the importance of the test lab to his organization, saying, “Our new Free Wheelchair Mission test lab will compress a full year of field testing into a few hundred hours of lab testing. We are unaware of any other wheelchair provider having this ability.”

As a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society of Wheelchair Providers (ISWP), Schoendorfer will make the Free Wheelchair Mission test lab services available to other members of ISWP who are producing wheelchairs for the developing world.

Free Wheelchair Mission has distributed close to one million wheelchairs at no cost to people with disabilities in developing nations since 2001. Until now, the organization has evaluated its wheelchair designs by field-testing samples in one of the 93 countries it serves. This process is expensive, takes a year or longer, and the data received is often ambiguous.

The new partnership with SD Mines and RPM is expected to accelerate the product improvement program and provide reproducible data on FWM’s wheelchairs. Rob Mudge from RPM said, “Our business is always driven by a strong desire to solve our customers’ wear problems and save them money. Applying those principles to the test lab for Free Wheelchair Mission could be one of the most significant projects we’ve undertaken in more than 30 years of being in business.”

Over 100 million people worldwide are in dire need of a wheelchair, yet most do not have the resources to obtain one. The need for wheelchairs is growing due to aging populations, natural disasters, traffic accidents, and political unrest.

The SD Mines team and RPM will assemble a prototype in early May, and product testing and refinement will continue throughout the coming summer. Mines students will continue the next phase of the project in the 2017-2018 school year. The long-term goal is to have a fully functional wheelchair testing system delivered to the Free Wheelchair Mission Headquarters in Irvine, Calif. at a future date to be determined.


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Charles Michael Ray, 605-394-6082, charles.ray@sdsmt.edu

Upcoming Events

Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2023
11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
King Center
Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2023
7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Campus Wide
Saturday, Sep. 30, 2023
7:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Stadium Parking Lot and Rocker Trails
Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023
7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Crazy Horse