Founded by former Royal Marines Commando and two-time Paralympian Phil Eaglesham, Conquering Horizons develops next-generation wheelchairs. In 2021, Eaglesham and his team wanted to showcase functional prototypes at the Paralympics in Japan. The team, which collaborated with engineers at SC Group, only had ten days to manufacture two important components before this global debut. Plus, the parts in question were large, complex and nearly impossible to produce in-house.
A digital manufacturing solution
We had access to instant capacity for fitting 3D printing technologies and the right materials for the job. As well, quick, hands-on technical guidance was provided, helping Eaglesham and his team from initial design for manufacturability (DfM) checks all the way through to delivery. In ten days, all components were printed, processed and shipped in time for assembly and final delivery. This made it possible for Eaglesham to debut the wheelchair at the Paralympic Opening Ceremony in Tokyo.
A breakthrough in disabled mobility
Phil Eaglesham is a former Royal Marine Commando and a two-time Paralympian. While serving in Afghanistan, Eaglesham suffered a serious injury and was subsequently bound to a wheelchair. Introduced to para-shooting in 2012, he claimed a bronze medal in the 50m Rifle Prone SH2 in Sydney, 2019, making him the first Irish shooting Paralympics athlete to win a medal at a World Championship.
In 2015, Eaglesham founded Conquering Horizons in response to frustration with existing wheelchair products. He introduced the market to one of the most innovative recent breakthroughs in disabled mobility, an overhauled wheelchair dubbed Victor.
The wheelchair was designed in collaboration with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC) and SC Innovation, a division of the SC Group, well known for its Supacat high-mobility military vehicles. At the Institution of Engineering Designers Awards in 2018, Eaglesham’s prototype was awarded the Alex Moulton Award for product innovation.
Victor is an impressive leap forward for wheelchair design in many ways. It sports multi-directional, all-terrain wheels that can mount curbs, can travel 20 miles on a single charge and is compact and foldable for travel purposes. As well, the wheelchair allows for movement at a “social height,” so, as Eaglesham states, “disabled people don’t feel like second-class citizens.”
Manufacturing for the Paralympics with little time to spare
Eaglesham’s vision was to showcase the Victor prototype at the Paralympics in Japan in 2021, increasing awareness of what his technology could achieve and attracting investment for Conquering Horizons. To achieve this vision, the team needed to manufacture two essential pre-production prototype components, one of which was a proprietary footrest, under a very tight deadline, and have them delivered in time for transport to Tokyo.
These parts had to be delivered by 9 August, so the team had little time to spend finding the right manufacturing solution. Eaglesham and his team were working with engineers at the SC Group, led by senior design engineer Gareth Dawe, to produce the prototype, though this was challenging to do in-house, given the size of the parts, and required access to specific machines and materials.
With little time to spare, they weren’t able to produce the parts in-house. This is where we came in.
Leveraging its instant quoting tool and broad 3D printing capabilities, Protolabs Network was able to successfully manufacture and deliver all the components in time for assembly and shipment. Eaglesham successfully joined the Irish Paralympic Team at the opening ceremony riding on one of the Victor prototypes.
Finding suppliers for large, specialized parts
The two components Conquering Horizons needed to produce were large and geometrically complex. Producing these prototypes required two distinct 3D printing processes and materials. As well, the parts needed to be dyed black.
Footrest using continuous-carbon-fiber 3D printing with Markforged Onyx
As these parts needed to be ready for assembly and use effectively right off the printer, they needed to be completely free of any warping. Bigger parts always need to be cooled for longer and often take additional post-processing management in high-functionality cases such as building a robust wheelchair prototype.
The footrest component presented its own challenges. Due to its large size, the only printer capable of producing the part at the time was the Markforged X series, which not all suppliers have (and if they do, it’s not always available to take on such a task). This part would require three days of non-stop printing to meet the deadline, at 30 hours per component.
Protolabs Network had ten working days to review the parts, identify the right suppliers with capacity within its manufacturing partner network and deliver all of the components competition-ready.
From design to delivery on a rushed timeline
Seeing the potential of Eaglesham’s design and wanting to prove the efficacy of its quick-turn suppliers, we took on the challenge and helped Conquering Horizons roll prototypes out at the Paralympics.
We swiftly identified the best 3D printing process and offered several pricing options across multiple highly-experienced industrial suppliers. Importantly, the network focused on ensuring that suppliers had immediate availability for their large-format 3D printers.
Upon receiving the designs, we were able to provide DfM and printing feedback within hours, helping to catch potential print failures or issues early on to save valuable production time. This was all done with the support of the network's platform, though much of the legwork happened outside of the quote builder—a machining algorithm sometimes needs a human touch for such a specific and specialized manufacturing challenge.
We also provided flexible financing and logistics support, arranged local delivery services to improve speed and kept the team up-to-date the entire way through. All of these factors helped Protolabs Network deliver large, highly custom prototypes with such expedited lead times.
And when Victor was finally assembled and debuted in Tokyo, it was a revelation.
“I couldn’t get very far without people from all over the world wanting to take a picture, or saying the product looked awesome or wanting to get involved,” says Eaglesham. “They could see that it was the sort of thing that will change people’s lives and change stigmas. It reaffirmed that the chair will achieve everything that I wanted it to.”
Since the games in 2021, Eaglesham and his team have further developed the product and raised visibility for disabled athletes around the world. Conquering Horizons and the team will continue to have Protolabs Network support, as we support from prototype through to large-scale production, 3D printing to Injection molding, with one comprehensive supply partner.
“We want to thank the network for help getting this across the line,” says Dawe, Senior Engineer at SC Group. “It’s certainly had its challenges, but hopefully, this will be the start of something that will grow.”