New Sunrise chair starts 'revolution'

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

LONGMONT, Colo. – When it comes to ultra-lightweight manual wheelchairs (K0005), the Quickie Q7 goes where few, if any, chairs have gone before, say Sunrise Medical officials.

Michael Proffitt, the company’s vice president of marketing and product management, even called the chair, which is made from high-grade 7,000 series aluminum, “revolutionary.”

“It’s lighter than titanium and, we think, as durable as any chair, whether aluminum or titanium,” said Brent Hatch, director of product management. “Often in the market, people talk about chairs around 20 pounds. This chair will go below 15 pounds—right around 14—and that is a chair with wheel locks and things on it.”

The Q7, which retails for about $2,400, offers the benefits of titanium at the lower price of aluminum, Proffitt said,

Comparable titanium chairs (long considered the industry gold standard for lightweight and strength) retail for $2,800 to $2,900 and weigh about 18 pounds. A similar product made from 6,000 series aluminum (the industry norm) retails for a little less than the Q7, $2,200 to $2,300 and weighs about 21 pounds, Hatch said.

Sunrise is not the only company zeroing in on 7,000 series aluminum for ultra-light wheelchairs. Invacare also has a chair in the works.

“Sunrise beat us to the punch, but we’ll have one before too long,” said Mark Sullivan, Invacare’s vice president of rehab.

If all goes as planned, Invacare expects to introduce its chair, the T7, in January, Sullivan said.

Until now, because it is processed differently than 6,000 series aluminum, 7,000 series has seldom been used to make wheelchairs, say industry watchers. To produce the Q7 at a reasonable price point, Sunrise incorporated technology from the bicycle industry that heat-treats the aluminum and hydroforms various components to create “a structurally sound and lightweight wheelchair,” Proffitt said.

“Historically, when you have seen technology like this, it has been at a very high price point, generally titanium, and because of the price, access is limited,” Hatch said. “It’s really about bringing this technology at a price point that the provider and, ultimately, the end-user can access.”