497-210: Mobility Ramps 2.0: Adapting a Classic Design to New User Populations

Meeting Days/Time
Tuesdays/Thursdays from 11:25 am to 12:40 pm
Discount Ramps
Dan Chichester (ID) (dchichester@id.iit.edu) in consultation with faculty member having expertise in mechanical and materials engineering
Appropriate Majors
All interested students are welcome
Technological Innovation

Ramps are one of the oldest tools used by man. Originally, a ramp was a pile of dirt massed next to a cart or wagon. Wood, steel, aluminum and now in some rare cases fiberglass have all been used to improve ramps over time. A consistent theme related to ramps usage is that consumers want portable ramps that they can bring with them to overcome obstacles in their daily life.  Given our growing obesity, portable ramps need to carry more weight. At the same time, they need to weigh less so that they can be easily handled. Most importantly, consumers are highly cost sensitive, so the ramps need to cost less.

For example, as the population ages and physical limitations increase, portable ramps have become increasingly popular, which creates an opportunity to break the paradigm surrounding ramp design. Veterans and others of all ages with disabilities can also benefit from ramps and related accessibility technologies that improve mobility in a user-friendly and affordable way to enhance the quality of their daily lives and their participation in school and in the workforce.

There are over 90,000,000 single family homes in the U.S. and over 30,000,000 apartments and a small fraction of these are built to accommodate an aging or disabled population that can’t navigate stairs or move about homes as easily as they used to, even though they strive to remain active and independent. Additionally, safety is a bigger concern for the elderly as they fall more often, have less strength and also lose small motor skill capability.

Wheelchair access around homes and other structures is also a significant issue for the aged and disabled. While technology continues to build lighter, faster and more reliable power wheelchairs that enable people to go where they want to, the fact remains that steps, thresholds and curbs are significant impediments to achieving the level of mobility and access that seniors or disabled individuals desire.

Regarding the U.S. consumer market, all ramps substantially share the following attributes:

  • Made primarily of lightweight aluminum – steel is too heavy for consumer use and new materials like fiberglass cost too much
  • Represent either solid or folding designs
  • Style is rarely a key selling feature of the product – function first
  • A difficult purchase for a consumer as they typically have never purchased one before, and while they need it, they don’t understand how to select a ramp that will be safe (customers want shorter and lighter).
  • Cost is important in the buying process.

There are two primary U.S. manufacturers of consumer mobility ramps and many retailers who import low-end models from China. DiscountRamps.com (DRC) not only sells the U.S. manufactured products, but it imports both generic models and proprietary products that have been engineered to its unique specifications. This enables DRC to offer a good/better/best assortment and to be one of the country’s leading retailers of this product.

As the IPRO sponsor, DRC believes that there is an opportunity to revolutionize this market by developing a new type of portable mobility ramp for the North American market. Its vision is that the product will have the following attributes:

  • Lighter than any product on the market today without sacrificing load capacity
  • Style forward – break the paradigm that ramps have to be aluminum products almost exclusively in a silver color
  • Easier to handle then current ramps – large ramps typically don’t break down into small lightweight pieces that are easy to handle, carry or store
  • Easier to manufacture than current ramps are – no welding, easier materials to fabricate with, etc.
  • Fairly low price point so that this new product is financially viable for most consumers.

The IPRO team will research existing products on the market and how they are currently used by consumers. The team will develop insights that might make the product lighter through design and materials. The team will also explore opportunities to increase the functionality of the product by making it easier to handle and store. In addition, the team will consider ways to make the product more aesthetically pleasing. Finally, included in the specifications that it establishes for any design concepts, the team will aim to control the cost so that it is does not exceed 120 percent of the cost of existing products.

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