Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Permobil Facilities and My Thoughts on Quality

My Permobil M300 power wheelchair has been a DISASTER.  There is no other way to describe it.  I have had to replace just about every part on this chair which is now approaching only its fourth year of service.  With all the parts and repairs (excluding worn tires), this chair has cost me well over $4000.00 to repair since I purchased it.  That is just about my total cost of the chair after Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program (ADP) subsidization paid for three-quarters of the total price tag.  That is not a good deal for either me or ADP.

It does not matter if I had a big legal settlement for some wrongful injury case.  It does not matter if I am financially well off and can afford it.  It does not matter if I have insurance that covers the cost of repairs.  This poor quality in a product is inexcusable whether for the average citizen, or the most vulnerable in society, the disabled.

I have previously asked “why are wheelchair components not made from medical or military grade components?”  Would the cost be so high as to be prohibitive?  Would the costs exceed what it costs to constantly fix and replace wheelchair components?  

Is it in reality “built in obsolescence”?  Are products deliberately manufactured to fail after a certain point so that the product has to be continually serviced or replaced?  You bet they are!  Companies aren’t worried.  If I’m angry at company ‘A’ and now take my business to company ‘B’, there is someone who is equally mad at company ‘B’ and swears to take their business to company ‘A’.  Status Quo!  You can’t win!

Why does Permobil, and to my knowledge all other power wheelchair manufacturers, only offer one (1) year warranty on their products?  Do they really have so little confidence in their products?  Probably, knowingly, Yes!  Company 'A' would say "company 'B' only offers one year, why should we offer more"?  Collusion!  Why not be better than your competition and draw more clients?  Compete for excellence, not mediocrity!  No, stay the course as there is more money to be found in planned obsolescence and frequent repairs.  My repair service tells me that motors are not rewound;  $650 faulty circuit boards do not have the malfunctioning 1/100th of a penny resistor replaced -parts aren't repaired, they are scrapped -discarded as there is greater profit in selling the client a new part at full price!  So much for a green policy...

Companies will tell you that if they built a ‘widget’ that lasted 25 years, that the product would saturate the market and nobody would buy ‘widgets’ any longer until theirs broke.  The company would go out of business!!  So feel good about your broken ‘widget’.  By constantly fixing or replacing it, you are keeping your fellow man employed!  What an exemplary citizen you are!!

Why doesn't Permobil keep an inventory of parts for their wheelchairs here in Canada so that parts can be supplied in a timely manner?  Why?  Probably because the parts are outrageously expensive and they don't wish to have 'money' sitting on the repair shop shelf until needed. Idle parts on the shelf are parts not making money; siting on shelves where they take up more space (real estate) that translates into greater rent.  'Fulfillment on demand' is the current business strategy which benefits the supplier and rarely the consumer.  That's how MBAs earn their keep.

Not one proprietary part required for my many repairs was stocked in Canada.  I wonder how many Permobil powerchairs are in use in Canada?  (See bottom of post where Permobil has a Facebook page.  They had to have given themselves a '5 Stars' rating as at the writing of this post there was only one entry and that was from a fellow in P.E.I. asking why it takes so long to get parts!!)  Shame!

I’m cynical after my years on this planet.  I believe they think that their money is in my pocket and that they want it!!

Still, until this last time (motor power control module), the chair has always gotten me to where I was going.  It has never left me stranded in public (though some close calls).  Then why, some ask, are you complaining?  Well, if you bought a new car from the dealership and soon afterwards the doors fell off, the trunk wouldn’t close, the windshield popped off, hubcaps and trim were lost –would you still be happy if someone piped up and exclaimed “what’s the problem?  It still got you to your destination”.  Or would you just run them over with your chair?

If Permobil feels they produce a superior product, then how do you explain my experience with their product.  A chair used almost entirely indoors on flat even surfaces?  My service person suggested the chair may have been manufactured on a Monday or Friday – implying that workers are either still ‘hung over’ from the weekend, or eagerly awaiting the weekend to get drunk.  I might have bought this theory if every component of the chair was made by the same drunk on the same day.  I strongly suspect that different parts are made by different facilities by different drunks on different days.

So, I began to wonder why every component that was required to repair my chair (except tires), had to be ordered from the Permobil facility in Lebanon, Tennessee, U.S.A.?

I look up Permobil’s Canadian address and am surprised that they occupy only one small unit in a tiny strip mall in Aurora Ontario, north of Toronto.  And this is the only Canadian facility!  From Sea to Shining Sea!!  It is probably the size of your local convenience store.  I suspect there is no room for parts inventory, but more likely, it is too costly for Permobil (or my service company) keep a stock of these overly expensive parts in Canada. 

 Permobil Canada -75 Mary Street, Aurora, Ontario Canada

So whether you live in British Columbia on the west coast, or Prince Edward Island on the east coast, or like me in central Ontario, Unit #4 in Aurora is your Permobil source.  Coast to coast, if you need a Permobil part it will probably have to be shipped from the U.S. facility in Lebanon, Tennessee.

I thought I’d Google the Tennessee Permobil site to see if it is larger than a convenience kiosk.  Sure enough it does appear to be a ‘stand-alone’ dedicated plant. 

 Permobil U.S.A. - 300 Duke Drive, Lebanon, Tennessee, U.S.A.
I really do hope that next time, as I’m  sure there will be a next time with my chair, they get the paperwork correct and the desperately required part is not turned around at the border as my power control module was.

I never had considered contacting them directly for an explanation.  Maybe I should.. 

Permobil has a Facebook Page –one entry, a complaint, as of this blog post

Permobil Canada Website – very impressive, even if my Permobil M300 wheelchair is not.

*   *   *

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Yet More Permobil Problems

It just seems to be never ending! Permobil problem, after problem, after problem!!

Both left and right drive motors failed, one after the other,  in January of 2016 on this Permobil M300 power wheelchair which is not even four years old.  I have replaced just about everything except three castor wheels and the metal frame.

Today I pulled up to my desk to do some work at the computer.  I did not turn the chair off.  Some time later I tried to back away from the desk but the chair simply swiveled.  The left wheel turned but the right did not.  No sound from the chair, no 'problem' indicator lights on the joystick controller; the chair simply would not drive in anything but circles.

I first checked that there were no obstructions caught up in the wheel; a throw rug has rarely become entangled.  My wife checked with a flashlight and verified that the wheel was unobstructed.  Next, I toggled the motors to manual so that they would be disconnected from the  the drive gears.  The chair rolled perfectly fine when pushed - again, no obstructions.  Re-engaging the motors did not reset them; the Permobil still turned circles.  Wiring harness seems secure.  Nothing else that I can think of which I could do personally.

It is as if the right motor simply does not get any electrical power, so will not turn.

This chair has not left the house since both motors were changed. It is used gently on hard flooring and low pile carpeting. Still, something breaks, jams or falls off every three weeks to a month.  I am not eligible for a new powerchair for another two years.  I'm sure my repair shop thinks I'm lonely and break my chair so as to have the company of the serviceman.  I'm certain my insurance company thinks I'm sabotaging my chair.  Nothing of the sort!! It is just an damn crappy product!!!

Service call is booked for tomorrow,  8:00 am Thursday, April 7th.  Can they fix it on the spot?  Is it a bum motor which has to be ordered from Tennessee again?  Do I have to balance my cup of coffee on my forehead to bring it back to my room using the manual wheelchair?  We shall see....

April 7th, 2016
Service technician arrives and inspects Permobil wheelchair.  First impression is that the new motor was defective and short-circuited internally.  On further inspection with measuring instruments finds that the right motor is getting a fraction of the power of the left motor.  Suspects that it is the 'computer' board module located within the base of the wheelchair.  Service person takes wheelchair with him to the repair shop.

Graphic Example -Not a Permobil Board
Later in the day I get a call from the service repair supervisor who knows my ongoing problems with this chair and commiserates.  He informs me that the controller is indeed damaged and has to be replaced.  Once again, the item is not stocked in this city, province or country, and has to be obtained from the state of Tennessee in the United States.  He places a rush order on the part, however, from previous experience, even with faxed orders and courier shipping, I will be wheeling manually for the next four to five days (as a weekend is near).

Then 'the second shoe drops' -the cost is about $650 Cnd.  My insurance company must love me...

With no on-board computer controlling the electrical distribution to the motors, I ain't going anywhere!

Update: April 20th, 2016

So, for the last two weeks I have been rolling around using my manual chair, patiently waiting for the part to arrive from Permobil in Lebanon Tennessee.  In the first four months of this new year of 2016,  the Permobil power wheelchair has been inoperative for one full month -One quarter of the time, it has not run this year!!

Motion specialties has been great in ordering parts and making the repairs - unlike Shoppers Home Healthcare (Shoppers We Don't Care).  I would expect that by faxing or e-mailing "rush" orders, and overnight courier shipping, that the part should arrive here in Ontario quite quickly.  Now approaching two weeks without and update, I call up Motion Specialties and find out that the part, the electronic controller module, was turned back at the border.

This is a controller board for a wheelchair!  I'm not purchasing computer modules for Syrian missile guidance systems!!

I hope that Permobil U.S. can fill out the paperwork properly this time.

I've been promised the wheelchair tomorrow, a full two weeks after calling for service.  The replacement controller module has been priced at $650.00 Cnd.  To repeat, in the first four months of this year, the Permobil has been nonoperational for one month or one quarter of the elapsed time.  The two replacement motors and now the controller module have added up to over $3250.00 in repairs for a wheelchair that is now only approaching four years of service.

I should have ordered a new joy stick at the same time as it, the steel frame and three of four castor wheels are all that remains unchanged from my original purchase!

What a piece of junk!!

Update -April 26th, 2016

The controller arrived from the U.S. and was installed by my repair service technician at their shop.  However, after the chair was returned to me, I discovered that the module hadn't been programmed properly.  Previously my chair had five power or speed settings however it was returned to me with only the first two speed options available.  This is fine around the house but not if I were to take this chair outside for a longer trip.  This was the fault of my service provider and not Permobil.  My wheelchair service provider, Motion Specialties, quickly sent another technician to adjust the computer program so as to deliver all five power/speed settings.

One issue that could not be adjusted was the automatic  power shut down. Previously I could leave my chair powered up all day.  Now the chair's power controller turns the chair's power off if the chair is not moved in 30 minutes.  While not a big deal, I do find this annoying.  I often work at my desk, working on the computer etc. where I may sit for a period of time and then adjust my position for other tasks or better accessibility.  I now reach for my joy stick and find the chair turned off.  I have to start the chair up again and wait for some 5 seconds for it to go through its self check before being able to move.

Perhaps Permobil believes the shut-down feature is for safety. I really can't see how.  As for power consumption -when left on, all the battery powers is a small LED indicator light showing that the chair is on.  This LED light could not drain the battery if the chair was left on for a full year!

Just annoying as your car might be if it shut off after a certain period of time stuck in motionless traffic jam or at a slowly moving drive-thru service.  The 5 second self check is also annoying.  While that time does subtract much from my day, it is nevertheless annoying.  Just imagine if every time you wanted to stand up you had to wait five seconds from initial thought to action.  That would piss you off too...

So, another $650.00 Cnd spent to keep this jalopy running.  For how long is yet to be seen... 

*   *   *