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 kilograms.

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.

Naranart Phuangkanok

The Nation

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