The Flow X works well with a narrow or complicated staircase
The Flow X works well with a narrow or complicated staircase.

Stairlift and home lift supplier Access Business Development Division (Access BDD) has been specialising in making private and public buildings more accessible for over 30 years. In a competitive market, the firm has steadily evolved over the years, undergoing a rebrand in 2019, expanding its reach globally and launching new products, such as the Flow X stairlift – launched earlier this year. THIIS caught up with Adam Wakes, Marketing Manager at Access BDD, to find out more…

In development for almost five years, Access BDD introduced the Flow X stairlift at the beginning of this year. Manufactured in Holland, it is the third curved stairlift to use the Flow family name.

The original Flow stairlift launched in 1999 and this was followed by the introduction of Flow 2 in 2006.

Adam Wakes, Marketing Manager at Access BDD
Adam Wakes, Marketing Manager at Access BDD

Marketing Manager Adam Wakes, who has been working for the firm for nine years, explains that the Flow 2 was a “very advanced stairlift” for its time and offered superb reliability and build quality.

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The main difference between the Flow 2 and the new Flow X is the aesthetic design features and ergonomics, he explains.

“Unlike many stairlifts, the Flow X is not a modular or an off-the-shelf product but a truly tailor-made stairlift with every model made to measure to ensure the perfect fit for the user. “

For example, says Adam, the seat has been specifically designed with a five-degree angle for a better seating position, enhancing upright posture and comfort.

“At the same time, the armrests do not flip up but pivot outwards. This allows people with different levels of mobility to safely access the stairlift, and if they need to transfer from a wheelchair or are unable to sit down independently, there is adequate space for a carer or family member to assist.”

The ergonomics of the armrests have also been designed to be similar to that of a walking stick to ensure it is easy to grip and control, while the integrated joystick is designed to neatly fold into the armrest when not in use, Adam comments.

“If space at the top and bottom of the staircase is an issue, the seat and footrests can automatically fold away – all these little touches add up to create what we believe is a next-generation curved stairlift solution.”

New technological features

One of the main advantages with the Flow X is that it features ASL (Advanced Swivel and Levelling) technology.

“This enables the stairlift to rotate and swivel during travel, ensuring that the stairlift is always in the safest and most comfortable position,” comments Adam.

“Another benefit of the ASL technology is that it allows the footrest to remain independent from the drive unit and swivel with the seat. This allows the user to sit comfortably as they do not have to bend their knees as much, which helps with better posture.”

The ASL technology is unique to Access BDD, he says, and the swivelling-while-travelling function is fully patent protected.

“Another feature of ASL is that it enables us to keep the rail lower to the ground as sometimes, on a bend, the rail will have to rise up, but with the Flow X, that is not necessary.”

There are four rail options available: standard drop nose, vertical ‘short-start’ drop nose, horizontal overrun and parking curve. Unlike some models, there are no mechanical parts on show.

There are other useful ergonomic features with the Flow X too.

“Dealers and surveyors often comment that when assessing a narrow or complicated staircase, they know a Flow X will be perfect as it can be fitted on stairs as narrow as 610mm, which helps put the end user’s mind at rest immediately.

“The dealer also knows that they will have a solution for the customer in their product portfolio before they even attend the property.”

Adam explains that the firm collaborated with London-based design studio Pearson Lloyd over the design of the Flow X. As the studio came from a completely different environment to the mobility industry, it had some really fresh ideas, he says.

“The studio certainly seemed to relish the challenge of working on something out of their comfort zone, and we were delighted with the end result.”

The armrests do not flip up but pivot outwards
The armrests do not flip up but pivot outwards.

Playing it straight

At present, Access BDD is seeing a real boom in both its straight stairlifts (HomeGlide) and the Flow X in the UK, enthuses Adam. Meanwhile, there is a growing demand for platform and home lifts internationally, especially in the Middle East.

“This could be due to the fact that more and more new developments are featuring multi-storey villas, so it makes sense to incorporate the installation of a home lift at the design and build stage, especially if the owners will have elderly relatives living with them.”

Another growing market for home lifts, he adds, is India.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for the firm, as with many in the mobility and access sector, has been managing the increase in demand for products, especially with the delays that many have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Access BDD having excellent relationships with its factory and dealers has helped to manage this, says Adam. But of course, as with any business, there have had to be many adjustments in its way of working over the past year.

“The sudden need to work from home took some time to adjust to, but I would like to think that this had no adverse effect on the company,” comments Adam.

“Despite the pandemic, we went ahead with the launch of the Flow X at the beginning of the year, which took the form of an internal event that was filmed and then used for a video launch which was extremely well received.

“Our sales team have been equipped with small demo units, which are proving very popular, and I am delighted to say that more often than not when someone sees the Flow X, they love it.

“We support all our dealers with training and technical support, and to overcome the lack of travel, we set up a studio from which we carry out live training and support sessions.”

Entering the US market

Last year was strange for everyone with the lockdowns across the global market and no one really knew what to expect, explains Adam, but sales figures, especially around spring, have remained strong. “Especially over the last six months with a year-on-year increase of 20 per cent,” adds Adam.

Access BDD currently sells its products through a network of carefully selected dealers in excess of 50 countries around the world, with each territory being supported by designated sales, sales office and technical managers.

Next on Access BDD’s plan is to enter the US market, which Adam says will undoubtedly be a challenge, albeit an exciting one.

“The US stairlift market is one of the largest stairlifts market in the world, if not the largest. We are currently finalising the certification for Flow X in the US as there are specific differences in technical requirements between the UK and the US.

“Melissa Davies, who has been managing the Canadian dealer network for two years, has recently been promoted to a new role that will involve overseeing the US launch.”

The company also has plans to update its HomeGlide straight stairlift later this year, with availability expected early next year.

Adam explains: “There is also a pending update to conformity that all stairlift manufacturers will have to abide by, including specific requirements such as having an emergency call device, seatbelt detection and an emergency stop button.

“Some manufacturers will have to update their models to meet these new criteria, however, Flow X already meets these standards.”

ASL Technology gives the Flow X a unique swivelling-while-travelling function.

Designing the Flow X stairlift

Luke Pearson, Co-Founder of Pearson Lloyd, discusses the process involved with designing the latest addition to Access BDD’s Flow range…

“For most design studios, designing a stairlift is far from the top of their to-do list – but that’s precisely what attracted Pearson Lloyd to the project. Today’s design world focuses on the creation of attention-grabbing, marketing-driven products, rather than solving real-life problems.

“As a result, aesthetic and user-centred innovation in less glamorous product categories such as medical and mobility tends to come slowly, if at all. A stairlift is a product of necessity, not aspiration. Few people actively want a stairlift in their home so, historically, few studios have wanted to design one.

“The Flow X design is the result of Access BDD’s international competition to find a design team to create the next generation of stairlift. As the winning agency, Pearson Lloyd saw opportunities both for user-centred design and to aesthetically reinvent an overlooked product, hoping to overcome the wider stigma attached to the stairlift by both designers and consumers.

“The innovative folding mechanism at the centre of Pearson Lloyd’s design both enhances the ergonomic function and reduces the impact Flow X has in the home of discerning customers. Pearson Lloyd’s furniture design experience ensured sensitive integration of technology into an ergonomic experience. For example, the innovative armrests include a pre-programmed emergency call button linked to a household or mobile phone.

“At Pearson Lloyd, we accepted the challenge to design the next-generation stairlift as we saw that it was a product category that deserves the highest level of design thinking.

“Mobility solutions are unfairly overlooked by the design community but with Flow X we hope to de-stigmatise the sector with an empathetic and contemporary approach to ergonomics and user-interface design. Our approach drew from our extensive experience rethinking the home, the office and aviation seating over the last two decades. Here, we are designing for our future selves.”

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