Big boost for Thai innovation
Published on Dec 14, 2001
Taking a big step towards ending Thailand’s reputation as a
“copycat” country lagging behind other nations in terms of
innovation, Woothiwong Toatong – president of the Thai Industrialist
Development Forum (TIDF) – will receive a Gold Award at the Far
Eastern Economic Review Asian Innovation Awards in Bangkok today.
Woothiwong, 53, the first Thai to receive an award from the magazine,
is being honoured for his development, nearly four years ago, of
prosthetics made primarily from lightweight polyurethane, replacing
the traditional resinbased plastics.
Polyurethane is lighter, making it easier for amputees to walk or
use other replacement limbs. TIDF’s prosthetic legs weigh only 3
From his assembly facility in Bangkok, Woothiwong gives his
prosthetics to poor amputees not just from Thailand but from all
over the world free of charge.
“The lightweight prosthetics have been offered free to poor amputees
since the project started,” Woothiwong said in an interview with The
Nation. “It’s intended as a social contribution and a present to His
Majesty the Thai King Rama IX,” he added.
The Far Eastern Economic Review Asian Innovation Awards are held to
honour companies and individuals in Asia who initiate new ideas,
methods or technologies or apply existing knowledge to help improve
quality of life and enhance productivity.
Formed in 1995, TIDF, led by Woothiwong, brings together around 100
small and mediumsized factories nationwide to promote new
technologies and product innovation.
Woothiwong, who earned a bachelor’s degree in public health from
Mahidol University, quit his job at a government agency 15 years ago
and now owns an imported usedmachinery firm.
His drive to produce lightweight artificial legs was initially
intended to commemorate the 50th anniversary of His Majesty the
King’s coronation in 1998.
“It took as long as nine months for TIDF’s staff to come up with the
finished product. The rubber, screws, stainless steel sheets,
polyurethane, polyethylene [and other plastics] used to manufacture
the legs come from 50 different factories,” Woothiwong said.
Users of the artificial limbs can bend their knees, sit crosslegged
and kneel down.
When he was starting out on the project, Woothiwong wrote to
hospitals all over Thailand asking for help in testing the finished
prosthetics, but got no reply. He was undaunted, however.
Eventually he went to Petchaburi, his hometown, to give away
artificial legs to amputees.
The artificial leg is designed so that amputees can “try them on”
and adjust them to fit their sizes.
“Because we use local materials, the prosthetic legs made by TIDF
are produced for Bt2,000, compared to the Bt30,000 to Bt75,000 price
tag on imported prosthetics,” he said.
Currently, Woothiwong uses his factory in Bangkok’s Bang Bon area as
an assembly facility for the artificial legs.
“We distribute artificial legs every Wednesday,” Woothiwong said.
TIDF has also set up a Walking Cane Bank, offering canes to senior
citizens free of charge.
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