Invacare Dragon

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Invacare Dragon

Postby Phil Esgate » 12 Mar 2012, 15:09

Invacare Dragon Indoor / Outdoor Powerchair Review by Phil Esgate
March 2012

Serial Number: 06123236xxxx Built 17/02/2012 EAN: 4-250067 20xxxx
Options included: Power tilt in space, power recline, headrest and high back seat.

After owning a standard powerchair for quite some time, due to being an incomplete L3/4, cervical vertebrae compressions, Osteo-Arthritis, a urostomy and a colostomy, it was decided by the medical authorities that I needed a more suitable powerchair due to my medical needs. I had been very happy with my simple but very reliable Wheeltech Enigma Energi+ powerchair, but it lacked the function of power tilt in space and power recline. My Occupational Therapists decided that they had the perfect solution to meet my medical needs in the form of an Invacare Dragon, with the aforementioned features as optional extras. I wasn’t actually given any other choice. I was told by the OTs that Invacare was the main supplier, so after some research I suggested that the Invacare Kite seemed to be a suitable match without too many options and is within a normally acceptable budget. The OTs said that they had not heard of that model.

The Invacare Dragon is specified with the following features: 180w motors, Dynamic with Shark 2 – 60 amp plus 15 amp boost, 2 x 12v 60 Ah batteries Type 34, 30 km range, 61cm wide, 103cm long, 106cm high (without headrest), 15% gradient capable, weight as delivered 113.1kgs, 4mph max speed.

I gave them my needs list, which included the power tilt in space and power recline functions, for the purpose of my carer being able to access my stomas “in the field” and for pressure relief. I also asked for sufficient torque to be able to overcome everyday obstacles such as ramps and small steps, undulations and hills. My driveway is a simple task for my chair to overcome, at a 1 in 8 gradient (7.1 degrees or 12.5%) for up to 10 times per day, due to the rear of my property being only accessible by exiting my front door, going down the ramp and then up the driveway, as I have no ramp at the rear of my house. I also require (as anyone would) a cushion or seating system which would not induce loss of blood flow to my legs and be comfortable and supportive. I suggested that suspension and good damping of bumps on the paths would be beneficial to my medical needs. Reasonable size front casters and rear tyres which would give good traction in various everyday conditions were requested too. I quite fancied the idea of some discreet lights so that I could use my chair after dark especially in the winter months, which didn’t seem like an unreasonable request on the grounds of safety. On a basic level of my understanding of the normal use of an “indoor / outdoor powerchair”, I presumed that it wasn’t needed for me to request a powerchair which would drive in a straight line when you want it to go straight, and not to veer dangerously off to one side at the sight of a small camber on the pavement i.e. driveways, dropped kerbs or undulations etc. and to be able to stop at a dropped kerb onto a road (with busy, fast traffic) without creeping or sliding out of control in a very dangerous manner. I also did not think that it was necessary to ask for a suitable speed for the reverse setting, which would allow any user to escape a dangerous situation, without hesitation, or fear of receiving serious injury. I presumed, similarly, that a simple ramp off a bus would be easily overcome by using a slow speed setting, and steering straight down the ramp, and not require assistance from two people to prevent injury or damage. This was simply my needs list, which was for an indoor / outdoor powerchair suitable for my medical needs and my lifestyle.

In essence and principle, all of my requisites were agreed to and a “suitable powerchair” in the form of the Invacare Dragon was prescribed. At my meeting with the Occupational Therapists, I highlighted a few of my concerns after reviewing the specification sheet for the Invacare Dragon. I mentioned that my current powerchair had 320w motors and the Dragon shows only 180w motors. I was told that the new motors were far more efficient and would prove more than satisfactory for the tasks outlined than my old chair’s motors. I queried the factory default programming settings and it’s suitability for my personal needs and was told that it would be set to the optimum for my needs. They said that the seating system would be suitable as the optional extra height backrest would be selected and the standard cushion will suit my requirements. Oh, and an adjustable headrest would be supplied due to recline feature and the tilt in space option having been specified. I still mentioned that the Invacare Kite seemed to offer more suitable compatibility for my medical and lifestyle needs.

The day of delivery arrived, after waiting for a not too long 3 weeks, which seemed quite acceptable. I had planned my method of transfer from my old chair to my new chair, via a bathroom wheelchair which was set to a much higher level in order to make it easier. The OTs proudly brought their offering into the house (the first time I had seen the chair in the flesh) and proceeded to get me transferred, with care from old to new, which went without a hitch. I immediately thought how pretty (may be the wrong word) the new chair looked, with blue frame and grey flashes along the caster mounts. The front casters looked big which was a relief as I had hoped that they would be, for the purpose of not getting bogged down on soft ground, and being able to mount kerbs without getting flung out of the chair after an abrupt halt!

Everything felt brand new and firm as I expected (with it being brand new). Tight would be another word to describe it, with most items seemingly well bolted together and nicely finished. The hand over was quite quick, probably no more than 30 minutes. I had to prove that I could operate it around my home environment without crashing into anything or falling out. They provided me with a lap belt which I instantly removed as it interfered with my stomas and was just surplus to requirements. I signed to say that I had received everything that had been delivered in good order and that I had been shown how to use the chair, which was accurate and true.

A couple of days of fiddling and diddling, road (pavement) testing and journeying at top speed left me with a few niggles and doubts. My immediate concern was that I wasn’t allowed to use the power tilt in space or recline to its full positions as the Wheelchair Services Department had inadvertently forgotten to order the headrest, which is a necessary piece of kit when using those functions. It is needed to prevent whiplash and snapping your neck in half! Invacare obviously didn’t query the omission either as they had delivered the chair without the headrest, even though their documentation specifies that it is a requirement to have one if power tilt in space and recline are fitted.

Day 2 of use and I started to notice a loud knocking from the left rear quarter upon changing direction. I had never experienced this kind of noise from my old powerchair, so I decided to investigate a possible, logical explanation, by identifying the exact area from which the noise was coming from. Was it the wheel, the motor, the suspension mount, the pivot point of the swinging arm, the mounting of the motor or something loose inside the gearbox? With a lot of to and fro movements and listening with a long wooden pole to my ear, I managed to locate the noise to the gearbox. A loose shaft mount or bearing was my diagnosis. A quick phone call to the maintenance department resulted in a phone call back to me from the OT who had delivered the chair the previous day, checking the noise over the phone and concluding that they would need to order a replacement complete motor and gearbox under warranty. My thoughts were that this shouldn’t have passed quality control inspection either in the factory in China, where the motor / gearbox assembly are manufactured or in the assembly plant at Invacare in South Wales. The pre delivery inspection area of the wheelchair services department could have picked this fault up too, prior to allowing me loose with the chair. But alas it was delivered regardless. So, by day 2, the headrest and full left hand motor and gearbox assembly were on back order. A phone call to them 1 week later revealed that they had not arrived in stock yet.

A full week’s worth of using the Dragon under normal, everyday conditions, for indoor and outdoor use, gave me a good idea as to how the machine performs during standard operations i.e. medical needs and lifestyle. Despite the restrictions imposed with no headrest, the tilt in space and recline functions work very well and without fuss. A simple push of a button, then a pull on the joystick results in a good efficient movement of the seat into the desired position. The default centre of gravity is about right, being at a reasonable height from the ground over the wheels and given that there is quite a lot of additional equipment for tilt and recline added. The seating position fore and aft is too far over the front casters and results in wayward steering and woeful control, making it impossible to drive is a straight line over any undulations or adverse camber. This is exacerbated by the front casters having a square profile tyre fitted, which grips when not needed, preventing the casters from swivelling as required, particularly at slow speeds around the house. It also causes carpets and mats to scrunch up under the chair leaving you stranded on a mound of woven material, and for the chair to tramline while moving at normal speeds along pavements and follow cracks and edges. The tyres (2.80/2.50-4) are advertised as “The ZIG ZAG SAWTOOTH tyre has many applications such as lawn mowers, go karts, small trailers and sack truck tyres. This size is also used for caravan jockey wheel tyres and on small industrial machinery such as floor sweepers and cleaners”. It is not designed for swivelling powerchair caster wheels.

The forward position of the seat, disallows sufficient powered rotary motion, to be reliably transferred into traction at the point of contact between the wheels and the ground surface. A frequent example of this is when approaching the bottom end of a ramp or a dropped kerb towards a busy road and the result is that the inadequately braking rear wheels slip and slide towards and beyond the edge of the pavement and onto the road in an unpredictable manner. This is extremely dangerous and will result in a serious injury or fatality if fundamental and acceptable adjustments to the weight distribution and controller programming are not made urgently. The good size casters have a standard nut a bolt fixing through the centre of the wheels which catch on anything and everything due to the excessive and unnecessary protrusion of the head and bolt. Damaged door frames, kitchen units, bruised carer’s ankle etc. have all happened within a few days even though great care has been made to try and avoid them.

Being able to “run away” from a dangerous situation is an acceptable part of being able to conquer and control impending doom. Having a speed setting of less than a snail’s pace for reverse, does not give the user the opportunity to do this. In any given setting on the Dynamic controller for speed between Tortoise and Hare, when selecting reverse, not only does it take a degree of personal thinking time but also a degree of the Dynamic brain to put into action the change in direction. It is much too long to be considered acceptable. The reverse speed is much too slow and can never allow you to escape from a reversing car in a car park or any other similar situation. The flick from one direction to an opposite direction is not only too slow to escape a charging dog but also more like turning a canal boat.

The arm rests are held in place by two thumb screws, which grab at the corner of the oblong section tube in its bracket. I use the arm rests to pressure relieve and to transfer. No amount of tightening the thumb screws will hold the arm rest at the height required to perform the desired operation. They collapse unceremoniously causing my arms to buckle and my body to drop back into the seat if I am lucky. My old Enigma had a push button locking mechanism for the armrests and it never failed. The Invacare fails to support my weight via the arm rests every time and collapses as described. This is not acceptable for safety and practical application issues.

There is a lovely rack at the rear of the chair for putting shopping bags on. That would be fine if you could put shopping bags or any sort of bag on it. It is mostly inaccessible due to the motor for the powered recline mechanism and the shape of the seat supports. I suppose it is handy for children to hitch a ride on, but that’s about all.

The ride quality is choppy at best over most, in fact all pavements. It is acceptable to have a short wheelbase for manoeuvring in small spaces, but it is a well known fact that if you have a short wheelbase you need to compensate for it by having sufficient damping with an effective suspension system. There are two small stiff yellow springs, sat between the rearmost part of an extended piece of chassis and the top of the pivoting motor gearboxes. I am 93Kgs and often have to carry some type of medical equipment which adds a bit more weight, but even with all of that, if one tyre is lifted even a few millimetres off the ground to a higher plane, then another tyre lifts into the air too. The suspension does not work. It does not absorb any undulation at any of the speed settings whilst manoeuvring, and at speeds which are used for getting between two points the suspension is worse than useless. It jars your spine and snaps at your neck giving instant whiplash over the slightest bumps and hollows on the average pavement. There is no dampening even at speed, only the smallest of shock absorption with much added weight (heavily laden shopping bags help). It is impossible to maintain the maximum speed of 4mph as the software is continuously reducing the speed to try and prevent what does happen from happening! The rear tyres are skinny and I wasn’t allowed to have pneumatic tyres (which would give some added degree of bump absorption) in case I would end up having to call the engineers out because of punctures. So, solid rubber, skinny, grey tyres are adorning the 5 spoke alloys.

There is a kerb climber fitted which does its job well and warns the front casters of a maximum of 60mm high objects in their path. Given the radius of the front wheels the kerb climber seems totally unnecessary and adds more weight at the front causing further instability. They also inhibit any foot placement towards the centre of the two foot plates, as it sticks up between them when the chair is tilted beyond the horizontal in a forwards manner.

A good degree of comfort is a requirement for any fulltime wheelchair or powerchair user. It is not solely dependent on positioning of the backrest or the angle of tilt of the entire seat. It also demands a cushion and backrest that allows your blood to keep flowing even though you may not have any feeling in your legs. The Invacare cushion has an angle cut out of it instead of a square edged front, normally seen on wheelchair cushions. This is a good idea and is well thought out, but here is the “but”. Because the base cushion is on a solid metal platform, and not a sling, it simply is not good enough for Invacare or Wheelchair Services to supply a thin firm foam pad that would never suit anyone with an average shape posterior. The cushion does nothing to prevent the sharpest points of my hips and bottom from coming into contact with the metal base. After a short period of driving, hip aches, back pains and leg discolouration start to rear their ugly heads. I can only put this down to poor bottom and leg cushioning and / or posture and support. The supplied cover is plastic vinyl and slippery, which means that when I try and get some weight over the back wheels to get some purchase or put some torque through the transmissions for traction, I slide down the face of the seat, leaving me no option than to try and lift myself back up with the arm rests that won’t stay in position!

The backrest is a sling type with 6 or 7 (I can’t reach them to count) horizontal adjustable Velcro straps. I have been supplied with the optional slightly higher than standard backrest. It doesn’t feel much different to the seat height from my Enigma Energi as far as height is concerned, but is marginally less comfortable than my old one. I can feel each strap individually through the very thin backrest cushion which plays havoc with my spine issues. Each strap has to be tightened almost to its tightest to make sure the backrest doesn’t bow too close to the electric motor that is used for reclining. In fact it touches my back at the top most point where the motor is attached to the backrest frame. This is at best annoying and at worst a very unusual spot for the development of a pressure sore. Due to the straps having to be tightened to their limit in places, their Velcro overlapping points for stickiness (I can’t think of another way to word it) is at its minimal, even to the point of not being able to fasten or becoming undone with very little pressure. I am not heavy by any means at 93kgs, and an average shape and size compared to most 53 year old disabled men, I do not consider myself unusual at all. I do however use my powerchair to the full. I am in it for up to 14 hours per day with occasional breaks in a static, reclined chair. My medical and lifestyle needs are for a powerchair which doesn’t shake my delicate spine, that performs and moves when commanded to without delay, that it is reliable and comfortable. My lifestyle includes going to the park with my 9 year old son and being able to go on the grass while he kicks a ball about and not getting stuck. (It takes 4 adults with strength to pull this powerchair with me in it out of a stuck situation on grass). It also includes riding on pavements which have poor surfaces while going to the shops, doctors, hospital, clinic, phsysio, and not return with whiplash or separated bleeding stomas and detached urostomy and colostomy bags.

The swing away Shark 2 remote controller is a godsend and is adjustable for height with an allen key. It falls to hand easily and has a well designed knob too. The factory settings for the user program are inadequate for my personal use and require a fair amount of tweaking with an OEM programmer, and someone who knows how to use it, to be able to personalise the chair to at least prevent it from being a serious safety issue.

Surprisingly the Invacare Dragon is not delivered with lights! However a document from the Wheelchair Services, stipulates that lights must be used when driving the powerchair at night time, which I presume is part of everyone’s lifestyle. I don’t stop moving because it has got dark at 4pm in the winter. The only issue I have with this situation is that you are not allowed to modify your wheelchair / powerchair in any way at all (apparently). Adding lights (although necessary) is a modification of the standard delivered chair.

The overall length, width, height and weight are not an issue. This chair came to me at 113.1kgs, which is just about the limit for a class 2 powerchair in the UK.

Summary of the good bits:
Clean lines
Well built chassis
Quite pleasing on the eye
Excellent power tilt in space and recline
Dynamics Shark 2 controller pleasant and easy to use
Swing away arm works very well and adjustable
Easily detachable swing away foot rests
Nice large front casters and forks
Good Group 34 Gel batteries of 60 amps
Quiet recharging station of 8Ah
Good solid seat base
Well finished paintwork
Nicely positioned and bright reflectors on the back and side
Plenty of places to hang things from
Quite quiet motors

Summary of the not so good bits:
Failed motor / gearbox unit from the start
Missing headrest
Inadequate seat base cushioning for support and comfort
Backrest straps poor design, too long and come undone
Back touches top of recline motor on tightest setting
Backrest cushion much too thin making it impossible to get comfortable
Poor fixings of armrests which drop when using to transfer or repositioning
Square profile caster tyres prevent easy swivel action and accurate manoeuvring
Pin mounts for back rest and tilt in space too loose and rattle, causing seat to jiggle and major discomfort issues
Dangerously slow in reverse
Dangerously slow to respond to joystick commands
Cannot maintain top speed on normal (poor) surfaces or a slight incline
Cannot continue in a straight line when faced with a sideways camber
Very unpredictable steering due to programming issues and square profile caster tyres
Will not stop effectively, when commanded to, on a downward slope, dropped kerb, ramp etc.
Very poor traction due to insufficient weight over rear wheels in a normal driving position
Very poor damping and suspension causing severe loss of control on undulating surfaces and sideways cambers and causing a whipping effect to the upper body and head
Unusable carrier rack
Woefully underpowered to suit my needs and lifestyle
Incorrectly programmed for specific user’s needs
Unbelievably poorly designed for the basic needs of most fulltime powerchair users
No lights fitted despite lights and indicator buttons present on the Shark 2 controller

Conclusion.

The Powerchair is too dangerous to operate for normal use without radical reprogramming of the default settings and some significant changes made to many of the supplied components. There is insufficient performance and control to deem the product efficient. The comfort levels to suit my medical needs and lifestyle requirements are inadequate. A faulty motor and gearbox unit which should have been picked up on before delivery reflects inadequate quality control. The headrest is missing which should have been supplied with the powerchair. It has appallingly inadequate damping and suspension. The tyres are completely impractical. The Invacare Dragon is quite well built with a few exceptions, pretty to look at but poorly designed. There must be more suitable and cost effective choices of powerchairs available to meet my medical and lifestyle needs.

29th February 2012 – Delivered
29th February 2012 – phoned to ask where headrest is - was informed that order was missed out
1st March 2012 – phoned engineers re clonking LH motor gearbox / warranty replacement ordered
9th March 2012 – Phoned WCS to ask about motor and headrest / girl said not arrived yet
10th March – RH Armrest will not tighten sufficiently and starting to wobble
12th March 2012 – Day 12 without headrest and faulty gearbox/motor
12th March 2012 – Emailed WCS to see what is happening – no reply
Phil Esgate
 
Posts: 169
Joined: 07 Nov 2011, 15:22
Location: Standish, Lancashire

Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Burgerman » 12 Mar 2012, 15:44

Good review.

Most of that lot though applies to almost all current medium/average powerchairs.

All are underpowered, badly programmed, ill thought out, etc. And so are most of the Hi-end faster ones.

I will add a link from the main menu.

Burgerman.
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Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Goibot » 12 Mar 2012, 17:40

What amazes me is how health professionals can dictate what chair you get. The individual hasn't even seen it but they just know that it is perfect for them. Took me 2 years and a bunch of phone calls to get the Ibot. The next one I'm hoping won't be as bad.
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Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Phil Esgate » 12 Mar 2012, 21:18

Wheelchair Services can be a nightmare here, as we all seem to have found out by experience. Here is a video of the chair with my 9 year old son demonstrating some of its features and me being a total nutter! :lol: You can hear the clonk in the LH gearbox at 0:53 and 3:25 - It is much more pronounced when I am driving it due to me being much heavier! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8J-tTkxwW4
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Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Burgerman » 12 Mar 2012, 22:26

Wow, that thing is WAY too nose heavy. Much like all commercial chairs.

How do they manage to make a chair that big and nose heavy with smallish batteries/motor and 4 mph? And skinny hard tyres...
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Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Burgerman » 12 Mar 2012, 22:35

I see the new one has its batteries and some very wide anti tip wheels hanging out the back too. The old chair is almost as bad! All rear drive chairs have the user sat over the casters. This makes them steer bad, lose contact with the ground (drive wheel) on uneven surfaces/ramps etc and so unsafe.

Look here: http://www.wheelchairdriver.com/images- ... r-1200.jpg

WEIGHT over drive wheels.

And here: http://www.wheelchairdriver.com/ultimat ... rchair.htm

NOTHING hanging out of the rear to hit furniture, anti tip wheels tucked inboard to avoid furniture etc. And thats with bigger batteries and bigger motors in there...They are not trying.


Incidentally motor watts relates to max cont performance, it doesent tell you how powerful they are. Just how much heat they can lose... So you can increase motor watts with a heat sink or a fan.
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Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Phil Esgate » 12 Mar 2012, 23:21

I know, I know, I know, I know - because you've told me so many times. It's about time I did something about it don't you think?
I have friends who have a massive stock of old donated powerchairs for refurbishment. I'm heading down there next week to see if they would like to re-donate something I can get my teeth into and start building a proper chair. I know what I'd like to do and I know what I can afford. So, this being the real world, I'm not allowed to starve the kids and spend money willy nilly (as she'd say). I'll let you know what is down in that warehouse before I ask for a chassis at least. ;)
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Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Burgerman » 12 Mar 2012, 23:58

kids? They can be sold, or sent out to bring back money!
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Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Phil Esgate » 13 Mar 2012, 16:55

or exchanged for decent powerchair parts I suppose :twisted:
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Re: Invacare Dragon

Postby Phil Esgate » 02 Jul 2012, 23:07

Update: In the end I got rid of the Dragon and sent it back. The only thing on it that worked was the tilt in space. I've been in touch with the Exceptions Panel and I've got a hearing on the 31st July. Hopefully they will be better aquainted with me clinical needs by then.

My experience with the WCS was as expected to be honest.

I will keep you informed. :o
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