When Christian Bagg broke his back after failing to land a trick in a snowboarding competition, the 21 year old spent the next three months adjusting to life as a paraplegic. Right away, he noticed something about his wheelchair: it was horribly uncomfortable.
Because he was more than six feet tall, Bagg needed to bring his knees up to his chest to fit, but he couldn’t adjust his seat or the angle of his legs because of all the welded parts. He immediately went to work tinkering in his basement and eventually came up with the prototype for the Icon, a wheelchair put together with customizable parts to create a perfect fit.
The result is the Icon wheelchair. It’s adjustable, so users can “dial-in” their perfect ﬁt. Bagg and his business partner, Jeff Adams, designed the wheelchair using CAD software from SolidWorks and a Markforged 3D printer to create customized wheelchair parts. The pair founded Icon Wheelchairs in 2010 in Toronto.
The Icon’s users can change every component, including wheel sizes, to maintain the geometry that best fits them. The suspension design allows users to set suspension to their exact weight. The compression and rebound can both be tuned to reduce fatigue. Suspension can be locked when not wanted.
“You don’t need to worry about having to choose permanent specifications that can never be changed after a chair is built,” Bagg said. “Your body and your needs are always changing and the Icon’s geometry will change with you.”
At SolidWorks World 2018, held earlier this month in Los Angeles, Bagg introduced his new wheelchair line, the Icon Explore. The two chairs in the line have two smaller wheels in the front and one large wheel in the back and look rather like a recumbent bike. Both have articulating front geometry.
With the Explore, users can get out on the trail or ride around the lake with the kids, Bagg said.
The Icon Carver handcycle is specifically designed for off-road use, though it can be used on all terrains. The articulating front end moves over obstacles in a way that even bikes with independent suspension systems can’t and keeps the rider upright at an up-to 35-degree side slope. That kind of movement allows users to ride on hillsides and over rocks and roots, but it also helps them easily go up and down the curbs in an urban area, he added. A kiteboarding harness system centers the user, offering support from the seat and backrest.
The Icon Trailblazer is a lightweight chair that can be pushed by a guide and steered by the rider. It gets people with disabilities through many types of terrain, from walking paths to snow to mountain trails, Bagg said.
He spoke about developing and refining the wheelchair to SolidWorks.
“The solution is rooted in design and engineering. For example, I would gather my able-bodied friends and we would go out to the mountains under the pretense of testing and trying the Icon Explore. In some ways, because we’re friends, it wasn’t a special day for them, but instead, it was a day about that piece of equipment,” Bagg told SolidWorks.
Bagg and Adams also used the Mark Two 3D printer from Markforged during the design cycle to prototype parts. Printing, rather than ordering, test parts, saved money for the small company and also sped the design cycle, Adams said.
Parts also have to be submitted for regulatory purposes, he said. When parts are requested for those reasons, Icon designers can call up a drawing and print the parts. They don’t need to warehouse pre-ordered parts on hand and taking up space, Adams added.
The CAD program, the 3-D printer, and the pair’s curiosity and design-know has helped them help disabled people get out into nature and to become more independent. And that’s a feel-good engineering story truly worth telling.