Far Composites – a case study
Far-UK Ltd was established in 2012 to offer a revolutionary approach to the design and manufacture of lightweight structural composite components. The company aims to understand its customers’ problems and solve them using innovative composite materials. We aim to provide engineering solutions that out-compete existing materials by demonstrating good quality, low cost and reliable methods in production. As an example, the company has recently been working with a wheel chair manufacturer to help them produce their first carbon fibre wheel chair.
The problem: Our customer produces wheel chairs in Aluminium and Titanium for independent customers. For their customers weight is a critical issue, especially when hauling the chair in and out of a car. Our customer knew that Carbon fibre offered lower weight than their metal solutions but believed it would be too expensive to produce and too complicated to get into for a small company. They also required considerable flexibility in how a customer’s wheel chair was specified. Wheel chair users are unique individuals with different abilities and requirements. Making a wheel chair that works for each customer requires adaption of things like axel position, width, wheel camber and back rest position. Developing a Carbon fibre wheel chair that works for this market and can be produced by a small company was quite a challenge.
The solution: We worked with our customer to design a wheel chair that made the most of Carbon fibre’s properties so rather than simply mimicking the metal tubes in a standard chair the design used variable profiles to achieve the necessary strength with the minimum material to control cost. At the same time we worked on how it would be made. The design for manufacture includes careful thought about lay-up, how to produce a hollow part with minimal consumable or tooling budget, and how to avoid expensive capital equipment such as autoclaves.
The results: We have produced a wheel chair concept that offers our customer some significant benefits. The wheel chair can be produced at a cost only marginally higher than a Titanium chair and certainly lower that current Carbon fibre offerings. Additionally, the chair features all of the customer adjustments needed to meet the preferences of independent wheel chair users. Finally, all of this can be done at a realistic cost, both the capital cost of setting up in production and the material cost of each wheel chair has been carefully controlled to make it realistic for our customer to start manufacturing their own carbon fibre wheel chairs for the first time. As part of this process Far offers a phased hand-over with initial production happening at Far and being transferred to our customer progressively as they increase their experience and capability. This phased transition is accompanied by training for the customer’s staff who will be using the material for the first time.