Plas­tics – Shock ab­sorber for crutches, Steve Hart

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - CONTENTS - By Steve Hart

Ne­ces­sity, they say, is the mother of in­ven­tion. And that just about sums up why an Auck­land firm is now tap­ping into a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar in­dus­try – mak­ing shock ab­sorbers for crutches.

Mar­shall Basham, di­rec­tor of Auck­land Mo­bil­ity De­vices, was play­ing polo in Kenya when he came off the horse he was rid­ing. The ac­ci­dent left him hav­ing to rely on crutches.

Back in Auck­land, and un­happy about the strain crutches were putting on his body, he de­cided that in­stalling shock ab­sorbers into his crutches would re­duce the pain.

Mar­shall ap­proached John Fowler, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Med­i­cal Plas­tics, a spin-off from John's man­u­fac­tur­ing firm Mon­aghan Plas­tics.

They formed a joint ven­ture to fund the de­sign, R&D, man­u­fac­ture and dis­tri­bu­tion of what is now known as CrutchShocks.

John says di­ver­si­fy­ing into pre­mium plas­tic prod­ucts was a nat­u­ral move for his com­pany.

“It has been get­ting hard to make a dol­lar out from low grade prod­ucts, be­cause of the cheap plas­tic im­ports from Asia,” he says. “So we are aim­ing at the emerg­ing New Zealand in­no­va­tion mar­ket. Man­u­fac­tur­ing might be in de­cline here but we can ride the wave of suc­cess to get prod­ucts onto the world stage.”

Med­i­cal Plas­tics is a commercial R&D com­pany, but its sis­ter com­pany man­u­fac­tures [un­der con­tract] sur­face test­ing swabs for use in the med­i­cal and food in­dus­tries, as well as an­i­mal care prod­ucts.

“Med­i­cal Plas­tics is a ser­vice provider to brand own­ers, but the CrutchShocks prod­uct is some­thing we have part­nered in to de­velop and make – CrutchShocks is es­sen­tially our first prod­uct.”

John says the pro­duc­tion ver­sion of to­day's CrutchShocks is 30 steps re­moved from the orig­i­nal con­cept.

Test­ing was car­ried out at the bio-me­chanic's lab at Auck­land Univer­sity, tri­als in­cluded us­ing a me­chan­i­cal test­ing ma­chine as well as with users of crutches mod­i­fied with a pro­to­type shock ab­sorber.

Fund­ing for the project was pro­vided by John and Mar­shall, and there was some help by way of a govern­ment grant – al­though John says ob­tain­ing grants is a slow process that de­layed get­ting the prod­uct com­pleted.

“R&D is of­ten a tor­tur­ous path to mar­ket,” says John. “It is a process of elim­i­na­tion, a process of test­ing and get­ting opin­ions from a wide range of sources. It's good to share ideas with some­one who is im­par­tial, and then it's back to the draw­ing board.”

The CrutchShocks fea­ture a steel spring in­side a ro­bust plas­tic hous­ing, made by John's firm. The de­vice slots be­tween the two sec­tions of mod­ern metal crutches, pro­vid­ing the user with a shock ab­sorber that re­duces the im­pact of the crutch hit­ting the ground by up to 60 per cent.

“It's not like the front shock of a moun­tain bike,” says John. “You can't have four inches of travel be­cause that would be un­nat­u­ral. In­stead, the CrutchShocks pro­vides for 5mm of travel – it feels per­fectly nat­u­ral.

“The CrutchShocks pro­vides rapid de­cel­er­a­tion down to stop, whereas a nor­mal crutch is just solid. With an un­mod­i­fied crutch the im­pact goes right through to your shoul­der, whereas plac­ing 5mm of move­ment into the crutch means the ini­tial peak of pres­sure is damp­ened.

“That im­pact shock of walk­ing with crutches can be bru­tal, and can lead to sec­ondary in­juries such as nerve dam­age as well as strained joints and lig­a­ments. Whereas if you put a shock ab­sorber in there then the shock is re­duced.”

Among the first users of the CrutchShocks was Olympic gold medal shot put cham­pion Va­lerie Adams. She used CrutchShocks for a week fol­low­ing surgery last year.

“She was re­ally pleased with them,” says John. “She could in­stantly see the ben­e­fit and loved the idea.”

The CrutchShocks, which will sell for around $20 (US$15) a pair have been ap­proved for sale in the US by the Federal Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, where seven mil­lion pairs of crutches are sold ev­ery year. Mar­shall is cur­rently in the states drum­ming up in­ter­est, says John.

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CrutchShocks’ in­ven­tor Mar­shall Basham (left), Olympic gold medal­ist Va­lerie Adams, and John Fowler of Med­i­cal Plas­tics.

A CrutchShock, shock ab­sorber for crutches.

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