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Get the wheels in motion with 3D printed parts

No one is quite sure when the wheelchair was first invented, however the first one on record was made for Phillip II of Spain towards the end of the 1500s. Since then, lots of developments have been made but the basic design (except for specialised sports wheelchairs) remains more or less the same. Other than motorised wheelchairs that were originally introduced post WW2 to assist with injured veterans.

There still remains a flaw in each of the self-powered and electric powered wheelchair designs. If the person is now able to turn the large wheel manually, then another person would have to assist and push it. The e-powered version would give back independence, however, for a paraplegic or someone suffering from motor neurone disease, other than using mind control which is still only in its infancy, the fiddly joystick could prove difficult.

This is where Stephen Marshall steps in. He is a senior rehabilitation Engineer working for the NHS that assesses patients with non-standard or bespoke requirements. For a wheelchair, this involves assessment, prescription and modification of wheelchair both self-powered and motorise. He mainly sees people with restricted movement, from a paraplegic, who is considered as an active user, to a person suffering from Motor Neurone Disease,” he explains.

“People have an option to pay for extras to upgrade the equipment we supply,” Marshall explains. “On one of these chairs, I noticed the cables protected by igus energy chain. I thought they would be just the ticket for managing all the cables on my movable TV mount at home. He’s kept in contact with igus since.”

For people who struggle to hold a Joystick, Marshall will commonly use a golf ball drilled out to fit the joystick shaft. When this has been too small, a tennis ball is used. “This is generally too big for grabbing,” explains Marshall, “and in the past, we have drilled a hole in a billiard ball. With the advent of new joysticks, the push forces have been reduced and the joystick’s ability to centre itself with such a weight has been challenged to such a point the chair continues driving once released. This, for many reasons, it not ideal.”

Marshall also has a keen interest in 3D printing, asked his local fabrication laboratory to print a joystick modification a few years ago: “It worked but proved a little too fragile for everyday use. When he was offered a free sample from igus, he thought he would have another go and it worked. “Since the sample, I have just ordered another custom joystick through our contractor and may have a mounting solution, later on, to get printed,” Marshall adds.


In terms of benefits to using 3D printed joystick modifications, is the huge weight reduction – especially when a billiard ball-size piece is required. An additional benefit has been the ability to create a tactile finish on the parts, which provides a softer feel. “We hope to develop this area in the future, using different profiles and sizes to improve people’s lives,” concludes Marshall.

For more on igus 3D printing service - click


Based in Northampton in the UK and with global headquarters in Cologne, Germany, igus is a leading international manufacturer of energy chain systems and polymer plain bearings.
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