Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Mines Students Partner in Development of Wheelchair Test Track

From left to right are 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; and Jared Carstens, senior mechanical engineering.




RAPID CITY, SD (April 3, 2018) – Today, Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM), a world leader in mobility solutions for people with disabilities in developing countries, announced the completion of its groundbreaking wheelchair test track.

Newly installed and operating at the Irvine headquarters, the test track will provide valuable data that will help improve the design and life-span of FWM’s wheelchairs. The project was built in partnership with engineering students at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and Rapid City-based RPM and Associates, Inc.

“We are incredibly grateful for the partnership with SD Mines and RPM to produce this test track,” said Don Schoendorfer, founder and president of FWM. “We set out with a simple mission to help as many people in need as we could, and through tremendous support and partnerships like this one, we have helped over one million people gain a life of independence and hope. This test track is an incredible asset to help even more people by being able to produce better designed, longer-lasting wheelchairs for developing nations in a fraction of the time.”

FWM has distributed more than one million wheelchairs at no cost to people with disabilities in 93 countries since 2001. Until now, the organization evaluated wheelchair designs by field-testing samples in a developing country – an expensive process that took a year or longer to complete and often produced ambiguous data. Using durable, steel frames and mountain bike tires the chairs are designed to withstand the rugged terrain of third world countries. Previous studies show that with normal use and maintenance, the chairs typically last three or more years.

The test track enables wheelchairs to be assessed more conveniently in our office in Irvine, CA, and compresses three to five years of field testing into a few months — replacing the laborious and time-consuming process of testing wheelchairs in the field.

Test wheelchairs are fitted with instrumentation to measure acceleration and strain. These test wheelchairs are kept stationary while positioned on a conveyor belt moving at varying speeds.  Obstacles attached to the belt simulate the same types of obstacles wheelchair users encounter in their home countries. Adjustable manikins will sit on each of the wheelchairs to replicate varied sizes and needs of users. Data from the instrumentation will show forces and stresses in real time on the chair and its user. This will permit comparison of design options in very controlled and reproducible test conditions which will result in continued improvements in design, comfort and longevity of the wheelchairs. It will also allow comparison testing and comparisons of wheelchairs offered by peer organizations around the world.

“The RPM Companies are honored and privileged to be a small part of the FWM team. RPM & Associates and its sister companies, RPM Solutions and RPM Innovations, combined their many years of experience in engineering and manufacturing to provide this first of its kind test track. It is very gratifying to know that our expertise is being utilized by FWM to provide more reliable and durable wheelchairs to those in need around the globe,” said Robert P. Mudge, President of RPM & Associates, Inc.

More than 70 million people worldwide are in dire need of a wheelchair, yet do not have the resources to obtain one. That need will continue to grow due to aging, natural disasters, political unrest and traffic accidents. FWM just celebrated distributing its one millionth wheelchair and has no plans to slow down. The goal is to deliver its next million wheelchairs by 2025, half the time it took to give out the first million.

Additionally, as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society of Wheelchair Providers (ISWP), Schoendorfer is offering the test track services to other members of ISWP who also are producing wheelchairs for the developing world.

“By all of us working together, we can bring the gift of mobility to the millions more in need,” Schoendorfer said.


About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,529 students with an average class size of 24. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $63,350. Find us online at sdsmt.edu and on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat

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

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