For many people, walking up and down stairs, getting on or off public transportation, or running errands is a routine part of daily life. However, for those with a mobility/physical impairment who use a wheelchair, these seemingly simple tasks can be extremely challenging. "In addition to the physical barriers they face, wheelchair users may experience additional issues," explains Christoph Joder, who works at CSEM, and is in charge of customer relations with the SPS. Wheelchair users may have to contend with health issues such as pressure injuries like pressure ulcers, also known as decubitus ulcers or bedsores. These occur as a result of long-term pressure on localized areas of skin causing chronic inflammation, which is difficult to manage and can be painful and costly to treat.
High hopes for 3D-printed seat cushion
Christoph Joder was introduced to the topic of pressure injury prevention as part of a joint project between CSEM and the Swiss Paraplegic Foundation (SPS) in Nottwil, Switzerland – the core aim of which is to explore the potential of "open-cell" 3D printing. Christoph Joder explains: "Our printers give us the ability to produce objects with an open-cell structure." The open-cell characteristics mean that the resulting printed structures are, amongst other things, exceptionally good at distributing and thereby relieving pressure, and they are very flexible.
CSEM originally developed this technique for a project with the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). "However, we were at a lunch presentation, expounding the benefits of the open-cell structure to an audience of SPS employees, when one of the participants spoke up," recalls Joder. "This particular individual happened to be a research associate with the SPS and also a person who uses a wheelchair. They saw the potential in the 3D print technology immediately. They asked CSEM’s team whether it would be possible to use the 3D printer to make open-cell seat cushions.