Saito Kobo Ltd.
President Sho Saito
Factory of Saito Kobo
Many manufacturing companies of a wide variety exist in the Sumida ward, downtown Tokyo. Wheelchair and electric wheelchair manufacturer, Saito Kobo, is located in Honjo near the Tokyo Skytree. The company’s wheelchairs are different from conventional ones, and are characteristically designed “to support the independence of disabled people”.
With a strong desire to support and satisfy disabled people, Mr. Saito established “Saito Kobo” in 1994 and began custom-made wheelchair manufacturing.
So far, some 1,500 electric wheelchairs have been made with customizations depending on each client’s desires and disability conditions. Through this experience, various troubles experienced by disabled people and requirements for wheelchairs were thoroughly examined, and the multifunctional electric wheelchair known as the “REL series” was developed to respond to every requirement.
Multifunctional electric wheelchair REL LITE
Desires to “use a wheelchair in small rooms”, “be seated on a toilet by oneself”, “cook in a kitchen by oneself”, “reach high selves”, “eat on a table with other people”, and “rest oneself in a wheelchair” are enabled . The seat can be lowered to the floor level, so that a person can sit down on the wheelchair by oneself. The wheelchair can move outside without concerns about roads being bumpy. In order to meet various users’ requirements, Saito Kobo created an electric wheelchair with six wheels, which is still uncommon in Japan. In addition to reclining and tilt features, a new feature, seat angle adjustment, was developed to enable users to lean forward while eating, using a sink, and standing on a foot board. Furthermore, implementation of a modular model enabled the selection of seat size.
“Depending on the level of disability of a user, lifestyle varies, and each user’s physical proportions are also different. However, the sizes of conventional wheelchairs were fixed. Multifunctional types were mainly imported, so they were too big and heavy for Japanese people, they did not fit in Japanese houses, and they were expensive,” said Mr. Saito.
In order to address these problems, the company kept making test products. With a unique six wheel structure and newly developed functions, the multifunctional wheelchair REL series was born. The company’s product lineup is a basic model “REL LITE”, an “REL LIFT” model with an elevating function, and a model that enables one to get on/off at a floor surface level. Saito Kobo opened a door for solving various problems inhibiting the independence of disabled people.
Multifunctional electric wheelchair REL LIFT
By employing a six wheel structure, the REL series can swivel in a small 94cm diameter, resulting in much easier use indoors and for getting on/off elevators.
With uniquely developed casters, the series has a small-sized suspension, and can easily go over steps, even from diagonal angles .
With improved cushions, a reclining feature, tilt mechanism, and seat angle adjustment mechanism, users can sit all day long and their daily life becomes easier. This significantly widened the possibilities for working indoors.
The company’s electric wheel chair with innovative functions was awarded MVP in the robotics competition “ROBOT JAPAN 2nd (organized by Mazel Japan Inc .)” in 2011.
In the factory, there are pink and orange frames. Such color variation also stands out from conventional wheelchairs. REL also enables an expression of personality.
Staff in the factory
14 staff members in Saito Kobo are working with a passion for supporting the independence of disabled people.
The factory includes a workshop, sewing workroom, and an electronic control circuit manufacturing room (for controllers). The main process, from designing with 3D CAD, to welding, to assembly, can be conducted there.
The other part of the process is supported by a local network: laser processing, sheet-metal processing, painting, screw and wiring procurement are conducted by companies within the Sumida ward, and sewing is done by a small factory in the neighboring Taito ward.
“Since we are in the Sumida ward, there are many manufacturing companies nearby. A network can be easily expanded thanks to many specialists in design and robotics within the area. The Small and Medium Enterprise Support Center of Sumida provided counseling, and introduced us to companies and universities.
In addition, this location is very convenient for people who travel by air and for foreigners, since Narita and Haneda airports are accessible by train without transferring. It is also easy to explain that the factory is right near the Tokyo Skytree”, said Mr. Saito.
REL community, a new place for creation
By utilizing the “2014 New business creation center for manufacturing” of the Sumida ward, Saito Kobo launched “REL community”, which will soon be completed as a place to make electric wheelchairs for supporting employment (social inclusion) of elderly and disabled people, based on the multifunctional electric wheelchair “REL”.
Its goal is the development of wheelchairs to allow disabled people to work, with specifications adjusted to each occupation such as beautician, doctor, server, etc.
“In 2020, many visitors will come Tokyo, when the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are held. My dream is to demonstrate how disabled people can actively work in wheelchairs.”
While talking about his dream, the expression on Mr. Saito’s face was also energetic, positive and full of hope.