Accelerating Innovation Through Faster Prototyping

WHILL   |   Japan


WHILL began to develop mobility devices that reinvent the concept of the wheelchair after a conversation with a wheelchair user who was too frustrated to visit a convenience store only 100 meters away.

Making mobility fun and stylish for all

WHILL is a Japanese company that designs and produces revolutionary personal mobility vehicles. The 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 the company to pursue new possibilities in wheelchair design and development. Their mission is to make movement more fun and more stylish for all.

WHILL’s Vehicle Development Department designs vehicle exteriors and frames with the help of the DGSHAPE MDX-50 milling machine. It is an indispensable tool in the company’s prototyping process. There are many machines and tools available on the market but WHILL chose the MDX-50 after considering various alternatives. “RolandDG…uses the machine for its products, and it seemed user-friendly. This ease-of-use was the main reason for our decision” said Yoshihiro Hirata, Vehicle Development Group Director. “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

The WHILL development department gets feedback and requests from customers every day, so in addition to the products themselves, the company also develop new add-ons and accessories. In order to shorten the development cycle, they wanted to speed up their prototyping. “If you hire a subcontractor, it takes at least a few days to get results” commented Yoshihiro Hirata, “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.” This approach has allowed the company to be able to evaluate the prototype and quickly move on to the next step of the process.

The introduction of the DGSHAPE MDX-50 also changed the way people in the development department think. Now, when the team are working on plans, they test the idea on the machine at various stages and evaluate where changes are needed; after all, having the physical prototype in your hand is completely different from looking at it as 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 to the team, allowing them to make even better products.


We can prototype with the same materials

When dealing with cutting, the MDX-50 allows WHILL to use the same materials as they would for mass production. The company uses various materials, including ABS, polycarbonate (PC), and nylon; in some cases, they will also use nylon with glass fibres, a wide variety of resins, ranging from high-strength varieties to more general ones. The MDX-50’s ability to handle all kinds of resins has proven useful on multiple occasions.

“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” notes Yoshihiro Hirata.

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 which saves time and effort. The ATC will automatically change the end mill, increasing productivity and the rotary axis unit simplifies processing both sides of the material. The development department is always pressed for time, but the MDX-50 helps to meet deadlines - smaller items can be milled within an hour. 

Our passion for manufacturing in Japan

Unfortunately, today there are few manufacturing ventures in Japan, there are numerous IT and software ventures, but hardware manufactures are falling out of fashion. WHILLS strongly believe in the importance of domestic, Japanese manufacturing and are serious and determined to make their vision a reality. They hope that other companies will follow their lead, grow, and rise to become their rivals.