Accelerating Innovation Through Faster Prototyping
WHILL | Japan
Making mobility fun and stylish for all
WHILL Inc. (Vehicle Deveropment Group) is a company that designs and produces revolutionary personal mobility vehicles. We leverage design and technology to develop wheelchairs that people are excited to use. A wheelchair user once told us, “In my wheelchair, I’ll even give up going to the nearby convenience store, which is only 100 meters away.”
"This conversation inspired us to pursue new possibilities in wheelchair design and development. Our mission is to make movement more fun and more stylish for all".
Director Yoshihiro Hirata: "I work in WHILL’s Vehicle Development Department designing vehicle exteriors and frames. The MDX-50 is an indispensable tool for our prototyping process. There are many machine tools out there, and we chose the MDX-50 after considering various alternatives. RolandDG, a company we work with, uses the machine for its products, and it seemed user-friendly. This ease-of-use was the main reason for our decision. Another reason we chose the MDX-50 was its size. It is small enough to set on top of a table."
We wanted to shorten our development cycle
"Our development department gets feedback and requests from customers every day. In addition to the products themselves, we also need to develop new add-ons and accessories. In order to shorten our development cycle, we wanted to speed up our prototyping. If you hire a subcontractor, it takes at least a few days to get results. Of course, we still subcontract today if we need high-precision work done.
However, we wanted to set up an environment where we could develop and evaluate prototypes immediately. As we hoped, introducing the MDX-50 helped us shorten our development cycle. Now, we can draw up some plans in-house, send the job to the MDX before going home, and have a prototype ready the next morning. We can then evaluate the prototype and quickly move to the next step of the process.
The introduction of the MDX-50 also changed the way people in our department think. Now, when we are working on plans, we will say, “Why don’t we test it out at this stage with the MDX-50?” Having the physical prototype in your hand is completely different from looking at the shape with a computer 3D CAD model. It is incredibly efficient to be able to create multiple possible shapes for an item and evaluate them in physical form.
Once we confirm a prototype, we will order a more precise version from a subcontractor. This shift in mindset made a big difference for us. The added prototyping potential allows us to make even better products".
We can prototype with the same materials
"When dealing with cutting, the MDX-50 lets us use the same materials as we would for mass production. This is incredibly helpful. Our company uses various materials, including ABS, polycarbonate (PC), and nylon. In some cases, we will also use nylon with glass fibers. We also use a wide variety of resins, ranging from high-strength varieties to more general ones. Currently, we do not feel there are any material inconveniences.
The ability of the machine to handle all kinds of resins is a nice feature. We also use 3D printers, as they can be useful, but we cannot do strength testing with 3D-printed items because the printers only support certain materials. When we want to do strength testing, the MDX-50 lets us do the milling with the same materials that we would use for mass production. Safety is an important feature of our products, so the ability to do strength testing is very helpful".
Easier production with the rotary axis unit and ATC
"The MDX-50 comes with an included Automatic Tool Changer (ATC) and has an optional rotary axis unit. This saves time and effort. The ATC will automatically change the end mill, increasing productivity. The rotary axis unit simplifies things when we need to process both sides. It is very easy to use. Development is always pressed for time, and we often must reach a conclusion immediately. The MDX-50 is also helpful when we need to confirm something quickly.
For smaller items, the machine can give you results within an hour. This speed is wonderful. Our passion for manufacturing in Japan Unfortunately, today there are few ventures in Japan that work with manufacturing. There are many IT and software ventures, but hardware ventures are falling out of fashion. There are companies working on revolutionary products in places like Silicon Valley, but such companies are rare in Japan.
For this reason, we strongly believe in the importance of domestic, Japanese manufacturing. We worry that, if our company fails, there may not be any others to follow in our footsteps. This reflects how serious and determined our company is to carry out our mission. We want companies to follow our lead, grow, and rise to become our rivals".