Henry, from Midsomer Norton in Somerset is 9 and a ¼ although, as a massive Harry Potter fan, he will tell you that he is in fact 9 and ¾! He’s very artistic and loves to be out and about, taking part in activities like, wheelchair basketball, power-chair football and frame running!
As Henry has Cerebral Palsy, he relies on his wheelchair or his crutches to get around. Henry wanted to spend more time out of his wheelchair, but he’s a growing boy and his crutches had become too small for him. That meant he was hunching over them when walking and this was not good for his posture as well as being uncomfortable.
Mum, Lara had tried for some time to find suitable replacements. Henry needed something lightweight, but the ones they tried were either too wide or too heavy and very expensive. Lara had come across our Innovation Centre after they had made products for the children of some of her friends and so decided to drop us a line. She told us;
“Before we got in touch with the Cerebra Innovation Centre, I thought we were going backwards rather than forwards. It’s really important that Henry’s crutches can support him for longer distances, to help improve his stamina. We’re so pleased that we got in touch.”
Lara spoke to our Head of Product Design, Ross Head, and he and his team set about this tricky problem. Firstly, they started thinking about any lightweight materials they might be able to use and how that might influence the design. Lara’s communication was great, she sent Ross and the team examples and explanations, dimensions and drawings, so they were quickly able to start sketching ideas.
In order to make sure the crutches were lightweight, the team realised they were going to need some ‘space-age’ materials! Ross explains;
“To begin with, we explored carbon fibre. We were able to get hold of a carbon fibre tube easily enough, and our colleagues in the Assistive Technologies Innovation Centre (ATiC) helped by offering to 3D print some carbon fibre components for us. Yes, 3D printed carbon fibre!! The crutches were designed, built and tested through a lengthy and complex process. Sadly, during testing, we decided that they were too flexible and not strong enough. However, we learnt a lot and the crutches looked super cool!”
So… it was back to the drawing board, but not for long! Working with some of our other colleagues at the Centre for Advanced Batch Manufacture (CBM), we were able to get hold of 3D printed titanium. This is the material that they make space rockets and Formula 1 cars from!
These parts are so strong it defies belief! The titanium was so tough that it was even difficult to finish the parts and make them smooth. Fortunately, the team were able to sand blast them, which leaves a beautiful matt grey finish and contrasts nicely with the shiny carbon fibre. A few tubes of super specialist epoxy resin (and a little sweat and tears later), Henry’s crutches were ready!
Ross and his team went to deliver them personally to Henry and Lara and as you can see, Henry was a very satisfied customer! He took to them no problem at all.
It was wonderful to meet them both in person and Lara explained that the crutches will be getting lots of use over the coming months as Henry has an upcoming swim therapy holiday, but not only that, he’s also soon to complete his first 100m on his own at his school’s sports day! Henry will do this on his racing frame, but before his does, he’ll be putting the steps in on his crutches to build up his stamina.
We’re delighted that Henry and Lara are so pleased with the finished product. Ross adds;
“It is so important to us when we produce a product for a child, that it enhances their life in more than just a functional way. The product has to look amazing, it has to draw positive attention and be equal or better than the rest. I feel we have succeeded in this mission and look forward to developing this product further and helping more children.”