Friday, 10 January 2014

Permobil M300 Chair Update

Having had the Permobil M300 now for over a year, I find myself rather disappointed in this power wheelchair and feel that overall, I cannot recommend it.  While the drive assembly has worked flawlessly (I chair has not stopped running and left me stranded), other features have disappointed.

  1. The Side Arm Assembly Mechanics: Understandably, paraplegics rely on their arms to transfer to the chair and therefore the arms should be robust enough to take a bit of stress.  From day one the arms that came standard with this chair were rather floppy with a side to side displacement of about an inch and a half.  In other words, the arm rest cushion at the top of the arm assembly would sway side to side over a distance of an inch and a half.  I attempted to stiffen this by adding my own washers from a hardware store with some success.  The arms also had no 'stop" so when I unlatched the arm and pivoted it upwards and back -out of the way, it wouldn't stop they rotate right around and drop to the floor behind the chair..  Finally when attempting to put the arm back in the "down" position, it is difficult to get it to latch.  Mechanically this arm assembly needs to be redesigned!!!
  2. Arm Assembly Functionality:  The design of the side arms offers no place to attach side pockets or carry bags.  There is virtually no place to hand a pocket securely in which you can place personal items such as a cell phone, wallet, glasses, etc.  I did purchase some small canvas bags with zippered tops as well as retrofitting an old bag from my previous Quantum chair and attached them by unbolting the cushion armrest and slinging the bags over the horizontal post, then re-bolting the armrest back down. Sandwiched between the armrest cushion and the metal post, I now had a place to put my valuables though this was a rather poor and cumbersome solution.  Paraplegics still attempt to lead normal lives - we do have items we need at hand and not dangling from a back pack off the rear of the chair!
  3. Front Wheels:  The front stabilizer wheels are 8 inch in diameter wheels in contrast to the Quantum's castors which are about half the size.  The sales pitch was that they could climb 3 inch curbs with little effort.  While this may be a desirable feature for people that use the power chair outdoors the majority of the time, it is not a necessary feature for home, office or the average residential locale. If you live in a rural setting, a small country town or a developing country where codes for handicap access exist, the large front wheels may be of use.  Not only are the 8 inch wheels rather large, the arm that attaches the axle to the chair is offset such that perhaps six inches of the wheel are on one side and the remaining two are on the other side of the arm.  The problem with these larger wheels is that unless you approach something straight on, one wheel is always turned in, the other out.  As my injury still permits me to stand, I find that the one wheel always turned in is in my way when I attempt to stand.  The large wheels also get in the way when I attempt to open a cabinet door or such.  I tug on the door and and 'bang!', it hits the wheel.  I have to back up and maneuver my self so that I always approach head on.  The larger tires just seem to get in the way!
  4. General construction:  Poor quality metal bolts used to secure the arm post to the chair's arm latching mechanism.  Two have sheared off which I replaced with better quality bolts from the local hardware store.  Seat pan screws which work themselves loose.  I have been lucky enough to catch these rolling around on the seat pan before they rolled off and would have been lost on the floor.  Plastic inserts that are meant to hide sharp edges of pipes (the canes, etc) all pop out on their own.  I have had people run up to me and hand me a part saying "this just fell off of your chair".  A part held by friction is bound to fail sooner or later.
  5. The Back Cushion of the seat:  While this may or may not be a Permobil manufactured component, what I was sold was a seat backrest that was held to the back of the chair by double sided sticky tape and Velcro.  The backrest of the seat has quickly sagged and appears lop-sided.  My only recourse is to find more sticky tape and velcro to try to stick cloth to metal once again.  Certainly there is a better way of attaching the back cushion to the frame!  Of course, improved quality costs more and means less profit for the manufacturer and shareholders of the parent company.  Cynical?  You bet!!
  6. Seat Cushion:  Again, while this may or may not be a Permobil product, it was sold to me as a unit.  The seat just doesn't work well with the chair and I always felt as if I was sliding off.  I went back to my J2 Deep cushion.
  7. The Seat Pan & Foot Rest Combination:  As I can stand, I requested a chair that had a foot rest that could be folded away when not required.  Shoppers Home Healthcare had Permobil design such a unit (I had no idea they had no such unit and had to design and then validate that type of foot rest).  Once the foot rest was installed and folded upwards, it still projected out from the front of the chair such that it, not only was an obstacle to my standing, but cut into my legs when I did attempt to stand.  To remedy the situation the seat pan was moved the the utmost forward position.  However, the back rest cushion, even in the farthest forward position no longer touches my back!  It is not a comfortable ride but these adjustments were made on the day that I took possession of the chair so I had no time to "test drive" and discover the problem.  In addition, having moved the chair seat pan so far forward changes the center of gravity and the suspension collapses if I lean too far forward, especially so if I am carrying a heavier object (backpack) in my hands or on my lap.  Can give you quite a scare!
  8. The Prototype Footrest: which was developed for my needs, other than it protruding from the chair, as discussed above, worked fairly well.  However, the 'stop' which the footrest in the down (functional) position rests against is nothing but two bolts which protrude from the assembly.  The trouble was that the two bare screw heads absolutely "chewed up" and  destroyed the heels of my shoes.  Regardlss of which shoes, the place where the sole is attached to the upper part of the heel would get wedged between the floor and the screw head and any motion by myself or the chair would cause the screw head to nibble away at the material.  Pieces of rubber heel material would litter the floor under my work desk.  Ruined several shoes until I took a piece of rubber hose and backed the screw heads such there there no longer was an edge that acted like a chisel to cut away at the material.
  9. Hand Control Unit/Joystick:  A single model for all chair models is offered.   Made in China, once again to maximize profits for the company and investors, the unit has a number of extra buttons and controls which are unnecessary for my use.  The story is this:  In Europe, by law, the chair must have headlights, turn signals & hazard lights.  Not so in North America -however the chair has all these features and the hand controller/joystick unit comes with switches to activate all these features.  The problem is -if I want them to work, it costs an extra $1000 to activate them.  I'm sure the wiring is already in place, so they're telling me that it would cost a grand to connect the wires to the lights and switches!!!  The switches turn on such that the indicator lights on the controller flash, but they do nothing.  Unintentional activation of the switches cause indicator lights to turn on and flash distracting me - is something wrong???  Momentary panic...  The extra buttons, although sealed, do pick up environmental dirt, oils and such.  How much more would it cost to keep the extra switches off the controller unit or perhaps just attach the wires to the switches and make all the features functional regardless of which continent you are on.
  10. Controller Power Indicator:  The charge indicator is not linear which is a major problem.  There are some 10 LED lights, divided between green (full charge), yellow (reduced charge - caution) and red (low charge -near empty battery).  Well, by non-linear I mean that it may take some six hours for the unit to drop one green light but then in the next 2-3 hours it may drop 4 lights, and in another hour it may drop the remainder and be flashing RED!  Empty!  On my old quantum, half of the lights gone meant half the power was used up.  A three quarter of the lights gone, I had used three quarters of the battery life.  I could predict how much power & time I had left.  With the Permobil, it is a guessing game.  I cannot judge by the lights how much power remains.  Not only that, but with my old Quantum, I could run for almost two days without recharging.  I once forgot to re-charge my chair at night and ran short of power early the next morning.  Not only did the Quantum hold the charge longer per day, I was on the same batteries 7 years later.  The Permobil's batteries don't seem as efficient after just one year.
  11. Squeaks and Groans:  Within a year the chair started to make all sorts of squeaks and groans.  A service call informed me that all the undercarriage & chassis bolts had come loose.  The technician tightened them and all was well for about a month when the annoying noises returned.  A second service call again tried to tighten the bots but they were secure and the technician failed to find the source of the problem.  It is so bad that taxi drivers, co-workers have asked if something was wrong with the chair.  With every bump on the road, and every time I lean to one side or the other, the chair squeaks and moans like an old wooden ship on rough seas.  Very annoying!!  I believe it is that there is only one central post which attaches the seat to the chassis and leaning or bumping around puts stress on this assembly causing it to squeak and quack like a sick duck!!
Well, that's enough griping.  A good number of the problems are inherent in the design of this chair.  Many are annoyances but when you live int he chair for most of the day, and most of your life, they are not trivial.
Some of the problems I outlined where with the matching of the seat & cushion withe the chair.  My own fault was that I didn't badger Shopper's Home Healthcare until the chair was adjusted to my satisfaction.  While the Permobil power chair may be suitable for some, the number of compromises that were made by the supplier to try to meet my needs were excessive and to some extent, unsuccessful

A wheelchair, whatever the make or model, should first and foremost, maximize, and in no way hinder, the user's natural remaining abilities.  They should also provide maximum comfort as well as piece of mind with regard to its reliability..

(I may try to add photos later to better illustrate the issues discussed above) 

Update:  On point number ten, 'Controller Power Indicator', I discovered days later after publishing this post that the non-linearity of the indicator lights was due to failing batteries.  The batteries that came with this Permobil M300 Powerchair failed after about a year and a half of operation.  They are valued at about $600 Cnd,  I was still on my first set of batteries when I gave up my Quantum 6000 for the Permobil.  I'll update this blog on the ridiculous problems I had over the period of a week in trying to get service from Shopper's Home Healthcare.