Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Lace me up!

I have been looking at fixing mechanisms again for the brace and am still very taken with the Boa system which seems to be used in everything from running and cycling shoes to snowboard and motorbike boots. It is spoken very highly of on most forums and many professionals are singing their praises. They have also started to be introduced into medical design form tourniquets (see above right) to forarm casts.

Boa specialise in wire lacing system, they use a combination of titanium wire and plastic crank twist casing. You always have to be careful with you use of metal in rehabilitation products, especially products such as the medical back brace where the subject may have to go into MRI’s etc. However this would not be an issue with Boa due to their choice of materials i.e. titanium which is not only incredibly strong but also not magnetic and so would not interfere with equipment such as MRI’s. It would still interfere with any form of X-ray however any choice of metal will do this. With this in mind there are alternative manufacturers such as Sidi who use a plastic form of wire. There are also other systems such as speed lace by a company called Burton. This acts more like a toggle where you slide the toggle along the lace to the base of the foot and locking into place by releasing a spring mechanism. Although this system is possible I am concerned about the reliability of it and so would like to see if I could get some more information on the Boa and Sidi systems first.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Tried and tested

I have realised that I have shown you very little images of what I am actually redesigning so here are a few images so you can see the issues that I may have and the want to address.

I think it is very important when designing this sort of product to try it out to walk move bend and stretch in it. User testing although subjective, I believe, is probably one of the most reliable and thorough forms of product testing. It is also the most sensible, if not only, approach when using a user centred design methodology to help ensure that your product stays grounded and objective while meeting both medical and patient needs.

The process

The process that I have been using for concept testing has certainly been a labour intensive one but I believe it is the best way to approach the task.

Starting out with the mannequin it s then marked up with key pressure points and negative contact areas. From here I use strips of paper and masking tape to transform 2d sketches into 3D visualisations, altering any key areas which interfere with function or will apply negative pressure. This results is an outline which is then bulked out and developed into a solid 3d panel. These panels are then taken off of the mannequin and deconstructed enough so that it can be interpreted into a net/template.

I allow a minimum of 1.5cms around the edge of each template to allow for human error in the translation process and also to take into account shrinkage of the plastic during the warping and moulding process. The template is then used to make a plastic version which is then heated and moulded with the help of a heat gun and the mannequin

Quality of Life/Fixings

This has been a particular issue for me personally. I have found it incredibly infuriating the need to rely so much on others for everyday tasks. This has also been compounded by further frustrations over the current fixings of many back braces. By this I mean the love of Velcro, which although is useful and ideal in terms of adjustability I have found simply just not reliable enough!

I have had to have the Velcro straps on my brace replaced twice now and have now resorted to adding extra bits of Velcro and padding to try and extend the life of the ones I am currently wearing. However I also had an ulterior motive in my behaviour by adding these sections almost like a back up system. This is something which is not very reassuring when you rely so much on a back brace for support and your safety. As a result this area looked to address any areas which have an impact on quality of life issues such as independence but also looked the ease of getting the product on and off as well as utilising various different forms of fixings to develop a more reliable product


By examining panelling I am aiming to introduce a more modular approach. Focusing on greater inclusively while optimising comfort for the patient this should also be a lot more cost effective for the public medical system. This methodology should also make the structure much more universal….or least provide a more universal basic structure which can then be adapted/customised to the patients individual requirements.

I was also inspired by an almost clip and lock structure. This would mean that instead of having varying sides there would be a basic back and front panel and the joining panels are interchangeable and simply lock into place. This should eliminate the need for hospitals to store piles of braces in different sizes and shapes but instead to have a stock of modular panels which they can pick and choose from and assemble to fit the patient. These panels can then be adjusted to custom fit the patient with little fuss.