The Importance Of Constantly Improving A Product
To continue to give the consumer meaningful and useful products, the manufacturer must continue to improve their product offerings. Companies can do this by making changes to their products that result in increased benefits to its customers or by adding new products. In any event the evolution of products is driven by the needs and desires of the end user. The goal is to increase customer satisfaction by giving the consumer a relevant product. This is true for most all consumer goods and it applies to medical devices as well.
At Aquila we have adapted a policy of continued wheelchair cushion improvements to give our clients the most effective wheelchair cushion for their particular situation and to offer features that actually deliver positive outcomes. Anyone familiar with our product line can see that this policy has been in place since Aquila was started 20 years ago.
The materials we use to make our wheelchair cushion improvements has changed for the better over the years. For example, our cushion pad used to be made from neoprene rubber. We changed that years ago because we found that rubber wheelchair cushions were difficult to clean especially between the cells. Rubber retained odors and stains and discolored over time. Rubber was also quite heavy and at times the wall thickness was inconsistent. With rubber we were restricted with cell size and shape and customizing the cushion was a challenge give the finite cell sizes and shapes. Also, the air supplying hoses on rubber cushions ran along the perimeter of the cushion and exposed. A rubber cushion did not allow a variation of the height of the cushion for special custom applications and offloading requirements were sometimes not possible.
We decided to address these shortcomings and made wheelchair cushion improvements by changing to waterproof coated foam. The foam cushion construction gave us unlimited customization capabilities in terms of offloading, size and shape. Foam allowed us to vary the density of the outer layers and build added support or soft immersion where needed. Foam is a fraction of the weight of rubber and cleaning a foam exterior cushion is easy. The function of alternating internal air bladders is the same as the previous rubber cushion and we have the ability to make any size air bladder which is something we could not do with rubber. Improving our wheelchair cushion exterior material was the right move to offer our clients a more effective product.
Over the years our wheelchair cushion controllers have become smaller, lighter and more robust with state-of-the-art components and the latest technology. The most significant example of this is the wireless remote control. Now our clients don’t have to deal with a wired remote cable getting in the way or adding to the visible accessories on the wheelchair. We have simplified the controls and eliminated the sometimes-confusing cycle time adjustments. Aquila wheelchair cushions now have only 3 firmness adjustments and the power switch.
The wheelchair cushion industry in general is full of companies whose products have not been improved or substantially changed to provide added benefits to their users. There have been insignificant changes to products that really don’t qualify as being beneficial to the end user. Take for example the foam wheelchair cushion. The basic design is simply a pad made of foam and the function is to provide padding and comfort for the wheelchair user. The variations of the foam are the density and the material from which the foam is made. Improvements for this simple product include very firm foam with cut-outs in key areas to lessen the pressure and sculpting the firm foam to provide positioning help.
Another brand of wheelchair cushion that has remained substantially the same for over 47 years is the Roho cushion. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the Roho cushion it is a rubber, hand inflated multi cell cushion. It is pumped up with a small bicycle hand pump by the end user or caregiver. This type of wheelchair cushion is quite unique because the cushion itself can substantially change It’s supporting characteristics very quickly as compared to other types of wheelchair cushion. The Roho cushion uses only air as the only medium of cushioning and support.
This means that in the absence of air, the Roho cushion will lose all of its supporting properties which means the user will be completely bottomed out.
As you can imagine this creates a safety risk. The risk being bottoming out and quickly developing pressure injury or pressure sores.
The Roho cushion has remained essentially unchanged since its inception. All roho cushions are multi cell air cushions with the exception of their hybrid cushion that uses foam on part of the cushion and air cells on the rest of the cushion.
One would think that a good idea for an air inflated wheelchair cushion which is being used by people with little or no sensation in their posterior would be an alarm to tell the user that their cushion is flat. It appears that Roho doesn’t think so because their cushions have never and still don’t use an alarm system. I suspect that over the years it would have been suggested by at least a few Roho customers to have an alarm added to the cushion. Even if in over 37 years of selling Roho cushions no customer ever suggested an alarm, one would think someone at Roho would bring the suggestion to management. It is a mystery as to why a company would overlook or ignore what seems to be an essential safety feature for those wheelchair users that have a Roho cushion.
It seems as though product safety and improvement for the Roho brand of cushions is not a priority or even a concern for the people at Roho.
Product improvement and innovation can be seen throughout the wheelchair industry. For example, manual wheelchairs are being improved with new materials that are lighter and stronger. We see improvements in options like shock absorbers for the wheels and color choices for the frame. There is now a manual chair that dampens vibration by using a polymer between two rigid frame members and a new type of wheel that uses 3 shock absorbing spokes in an offset hub to make for a smoother ride. These are good examples of how some companies follow the same customer- based product improvement policy as Aquila.
Product improvements based on what customers are asking for are very important to the continued success and growth of any business. That’s why we at Aquila value input from our customers and continually look for ways to make wheelchair cushion improvements. Those companies that adapt a continued improvement policy will continue to be the innovators in their respective markets.
Owner & President