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Posted on: Thursday - Jan 22, 2015

Robust suspension systems. Check.

Powerful motor packages. Check.

Tight turning radius capabilities. Check.

Enhanced steering performance. Check. 

Wider, longer stances allowing smooth travel both outdoors… and indoors. Check… and check.

No, this isn’t a car advertisement. It’s actually just a small peek at the many features offered by Permobil, a leader in the complex rehabilitation power wheelchairs industry. 

Permobil was founded in the early 1960s by Swedish doctor Per Uddén when he saw the limitations placed on his friend who used a power chair. Not only did the chair confine him to the indoors, it also performed very basic functions that significantly reduced what a person was able to do or where they could go. While Dr. Uddén worked on crafting a chair for his friend, what he didn’t realize was that he had tapped in on the need of a lot of other people, so he began working very closely with the Swedish government to come up with a funding system for those who were in need of a better functioning power chair.

Nearly 60 years later, Permobil has grown from its headquarters in Sweden to having locations in 21 countries around the world with the largest U.S. division located in Lebanon, Tennessee. The Lebanon facility employs a workforce of 191 and serves not only the United States, but also Canada and Australia.

So how long does it take to build a quality, state-of-the-art power chair with features customized to each user?

“We currently make several thousand chairs a year, but if we were to only build one chair in a day, it would take about four and a half hours,” Permobil Senior Vice President of North American Operations Darin Lowery said. “Targeting the end user and providing the product extremely fast is something we’ve put a great deal of attention into. Once the order is received, the end user is very anxious to receive their chair, so over one-third of our products are built and shipped within 48 hours.”

What takes place during that 4.5 hours is a highly regimented process that flows throughout several areas of Permobil’s beautifully modern, eco-friendly facility.

The process begins when they receive an order, oftentimes listing hundreds of design specifications customized for the end user. Once the order is entered into the system, team members on the production floor pull material and parts, send them to the assembly line and begin the build process. At this point, the chair is 60 percent complete. The last 40 percent is spent with a single, highly-skilled operator who will finish building the chair. 

With approximately 1.3 million different variations possible for each chair, the operator may spend several hours perfecting the chair to fit the end user’s specific needs. Once that’s finished, the chair is sent to Permobil’s quality control area. There, a technician will inspect the chair from top to bottom to ensure that it was constructed properly, all the functions operate correctly and the safety inhibits are in place. Once the technician signs off on the chair, it is then test driven by someone who will run through all of the power functions while listening for noise. The final step in the process is when the chair is placed in the shipping department where it will soon be delivered to its owner.

Lowery credits Tennessee’s location and distribution strength as one of the reasons for the quick delivery time. “Tennessee’s a great state for us to be in for many reasons. Not only from the standpoint of distribution, but we know we can reach nearly 80 percent of our customer base within one day’s travel, so there’s a great strategic advantage of where we’re located.”

But location isn’t the only thing driving Permobil’s success. “The thing that has led to our success is the focus of our end user and really targeting the needs of our customer. We also have great employees. A lot of people working here come from the industry, so they bring that knowledge and experience to us and we use it every day. There’s a great deal of passion in what we do. We work hard every day, and we don’t take anything for granted.”

Permobil’s passion to satisfy its end users is evident as you walk through the halls of the facility and see its advertising on the walls. Every person in their marketing campaign, from child to adult, is an actual Permobil user and each setting shows how versatile and accommodating the chairs are.

Lowery says he expects the company will continue its success into the future and that another expansion is in the works at the Lebanon location. “We had a great 2014 and are looking forward to the next three to five years,” Lowery said. “We’re looking to expand our facility yet again, so we’re excited about that and see no limitations in our future.” 

To learn more about Permobil, visit www.permobil.com