Wheelchairs: Carbon Fibre Vs Aluminium

Understanding the benefits of each material will help you choose the best option for the needs of the individual that will use the wheelchair.

carbon fibre wheelchairs vs aluminium

Motion Composites offer a range of wheelchairs are made with both aluminium and carbon fibre options. This article will explore the selection of carbon fiber and aluminum, including the benefits and uses of each material.  

Understanding how each material can affect wheelchair comfort, cost, and durability is vital when exploring your options for a new wheelchair.

WHAT IS CARBON FIBER?

Carbon fiber is an extremely strong but lightweight material made up of very thin strands of carbon fibres. Traditionally carbon fibre has been used in industries such as Aerospace and Automotive, due to its unique properties.  

Today, the material is increasingly employed in other industries such as high-end sports equipment, bicycles and other applications requiring high strength with low weight.  Motion Composites was one of the first companies in North America to successfully use carbon fibre to develop one of the world’s lightest wheelchairs.

In strength-to-weight studies, carbon fibre has been known to be up to ten times as strong as metals used in wheelchair manufacturing while weighing one-fifth as much, making it ideal for propulsion performance. A lighter wheelchair means less energy expended and a decreased risk of upper extremity injury for the user, therefore lowering weight as much as possible is a logical goal. 

 

CHOOSING CARBON FIBRE OVER ALUMINUM

The next question then becomes, when comparing carbon fibre to aluminum, which option is best at similar weight?

Carbon fibre has several unique properties that make it an appealing option for wheelchair design.   Motion Composites users have described reduced chair vibrations in moving from an aluminum frame wheelchair to a carbon fibre one.   In scientific or engineering terms, this is referred to as ‘vibration damping’ and is an important characteristic of carbon fibre.  Aluminum tubes dampen vibrations less than carbon fibre, therefore the user will feel minor bumps and surface obtrusions more than with a carbon fiber frame.

Aluminum can also be subject to oxidization over time, which can affect the structure of the wheelchair especially if it occurs around joints and screws.  Carbon fibre cannot rust nor oxidize.  

However, it can crack if subject to extreme pressure far in excess of what is likely under normal use.  Therefore, a carbon fibre wheelchair is likely to last longer and maintain its integrity longer than an aluminum frame. 

Carbon fibre also has very low thermal conduction, meaning it will not get as hot or cold as aluminum. On a very hot or cold day, a metal wheelchair can radiate a significant amount of heat or cold, making it uncomfortable for the user. The integrity of a metal frame can also be affected over time by expansion and contraction due to temperature changes.

For some users, the raw look of carbon fibre can also be appealing and make their chair appear sportier. Both types of frames can be painted, and Motion Composites offers painted frames in many different exotic colors on several of its models.

Manufacturing carbon fibre is much more time consuming and costly than aluminum. Using it in production raises the cost of carbon fibre wheelchairs in comparison to their aluminum counterparts. The added cost is an important consideration when weighing the benefits of carbon fibre.

Cost considerations aside, carbon fibre is generally considered to be a superior choice over aluminum when selecting a wheelchair due to its unique vibration dampening properties, durability, thermal properties and – subject to individual taste – aesthetics.  

Regardless of which type of wheelchair is chosen in the end, all Motion Composites customers are guaranteed an exceptional, long-lasting product.

 

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