Amazing Covers From An Austrian Start-Up
The days of the ugly covers for artificial limbs are finally over. While many prosthetists offered some sort of cover or another, more often than not they tried to imitate the look of the remaining limb. And often, very often, it wasn‘t even a good imitation. Designed for function, not for style, they were off the shelf models with a standard look. Dull, boring, lacking any creativity. But recent years have seen a new trend. With the increase in 3D printing a number of start-ups have specialized in providing prosthetic covers, enabling amputees to express their own style and allowing them to wear their prostheses with pride. One of the newest providers of prosthetic covers is ce:koon from Upper Austria. And today I am speaking with Marcos Wakolbinger, its founder and CEO.
ce:koon - Aesthetics and Protection
Markus, if I am not mistaken, ce:koon covers are pretty new on the market. When did you start and since when can people enjoy your prosthetic covers?
With the ce:koon brand we have been on the market since February 2018. And already in March 2018 we were able to deliver our first cover with our Mandala design.
If you were to sum up the essence of ce:koon and what it stands for in one sentence, what would that be?
ce:koon stands for individualized aesthetic covers for prosthetic legs.
Where does the name ce:koon come from? What does it mean?
The name ce:koon is based on the term 'cocoon' and stands for a housing or shell that serves as protection. Our covers offer all-round protection for the expensive prosthesis.
Can you tell us a bit more about the actual product; the covers? Why are they special? What sets them apart from other covers like the ones from IDEthnos, ALLELES, Anatomic Studios etc.?
The special thing about our covers is their shape, variety and individuality. Our covers are very narrow, extremely light and convince through the material we use. Compared with other covers ours
are relatively thin. As a result they feel 'softer'. Furthermore, our customers are not only free to choose their cover design, but can also choose from different versions - open at the back or
overlapping wings (S-Series) or closed at the back (X-Series). With the X-Series, wearers can exchange the front and/or back cover at any time at a reasonable price.
The S-Series And The X-Series
If I look at your website, there are two main product lines. Can you briefly talk us through the key features of these two? What do they have in common? Where are the main differences?
Basically, both series are available in any design and for above-knee or below-knee amputees. Both series are produced using a high-quality 3D printing process on printers from HP, EOS and Carbon. We only work with high-quality certified materials, similarly to those used by prosthetists. Our 3D printing process meets the strict product quality guidelines of the profession. This is how we have succeeded in ensuring that ce:koon customized covers meet the same high standards in terms of form, functionality and safety.
In our online shop, customers can choose from various designs or use these designs as a base for their own ideas. If you have a specific idea in mind, we recommend that you contact us directly or talk with your orthopaedic technician. Subsequently, the order is processed together with the orthopaedic technician.
We are currently working on a 3D online configurator to facilitate the individualization of numerous other covers according to the customer's wishes. This new service will be ready later this year.
The S-Series is one-piece, with two wings at the back, either overlapping or open at the back. The covers of this series are cheaper and sporty. With the version being partially made from leather (rear wings) they carry a noble touch and have a pleasant feel. This series is either milled or produced in 3D printing.
It was important for us to be able to offer covers at a low price. The S-Covers are ideal for lower leg amputees, because they can be warmed up and molded to the individual’s needs. They are ideal if you are looking for a nice fit without big gaps between the socket, the prosthesis and the cover. In addition, the S-Cover is light as a feather with only 250 to 300 grams and yet robust.
The X-Series consists of two pieces, that is a front and a back cover. Behind the front cover, another 3D printed layer is clicked in for reinforcement, so that a foil can be inserted in between. That is great for our perforated design patterns as it lets the design shine and stand out. The foil can be quickly and easily changed, going nicely with any outfit. The front cover is held in position by an adapted 3D printed spacer and the back cover is just clicked on. The attachment is simple and possible without the need for tools. The back cover is easy and simple to remove. This way, for example, you can quickly reach the charging points. The click fasteners are made of a break-proof material.
This cover is more expensive than the S-Series; it’s a long-term investment. But once purchased, amputees have the possibility to retrofit the front and back cover at a reasonable price and to
add different designs for different occasions over time. The front and back cover can be retrofitted at a reasonable price in any design. They are simply attached to the base. The advantage of
this series is that it can be easily and inexpensively adapted to changing needs, interests and moods in the future.
Fulfilling Individual Wishes
Can customers choose between semi-custom and fully customised covers? In what way can you accommodate special wishes and design ideas from the customer?
With regard to design, we take into account the latest fashion trends and the ideas and ideas of our customers. On request, we also create completely new designs. In this case, it is sufficient for customers to send us pictures or sketches of their design wishes. We complement our ideas and in the end we create a unique cover. Often, our clients take our existing designs as a basis and only want minor changes. In principle, we are able to fulfill every design wish.
In terms of off the shelf models, how many different designs do you currently produce? And which one is your personal favourite? What are the customer favourites? What is the best feedback from a customer you got so far?
We currently have 20 different basic designs, allowing for almost endless combinations in colour and finish.
My personal favourite is the spider design, because it looks very sporty and discreet. Since I am also a big fan of motorcycles, I personally also like the rusty metal look and the perforated skull men.
Women like to go for bolder colours and many love the mandala design. It’s a real eye catcher and attracts attention like a tattoo. Men like it simple, often in carbon style or in the look of rusty metal.
Some of my customers have told me that it's only now - since they started wearing our covers - that they dare to wear shorts or skirts again. It’s the reactions they get on their covers that boosts their self-confidence. Suddenly you are asked about the cool cover and not only about what actually happened to you.
In terms of fully customised covers, are there any limitations to what you can do? Or is it basically: If the customer has a good idea, a special wish, a challenging need, can you get it done?
So far we have been able to fulfill every individual wish. This has been our goal from the beginning and in this regard we do not anticipate any hurdles in the future. The possibilities are endless. And that is the best thing about our work: Together with the customers we develop designs that inspire for a long time to come.
Covers That Can Take The Beatings Of An Active Lifestyle
Can you share any details about the process of making the covers? Or is this part of the business secret? Can you share some stories from the initial try and error phase?
We create the design and the customers get pictures from us for approval. Then we send the drafts to our partner, where the polyamide parts are plotted with millimetre precision on a 3D printer and returned to us within 24 hours. When the covers come out of the printer, they are white or grey. The colour or pattern is then applied to the break-resistant covers.
Looking at your internet shop, it seems there are tow leading ideas that guide the developments of your covers. The first one is style; i.e. enabling customers to develop their own style by wearing a prosthetic cover that fits their identity, they mood, the imagine they want to project to the outside word. In addition there is the idea of comfort and easy use. Adding a cover needs to be user-friendly and must not limit the amputee in his for her day to day activities. How are these two leading ideas reflected in your products?
Basically, in all series: The covers have to meet the exact expectations of the customer in terms of appearance. But they also have to be functional withstanding everyday use in the long term. Our goal in product development was to design each series functionally in such a way that the covers are easy to attach and change without the need for any tools. Basically, the wearers should be able to simply change and attach a cover themselves easily once it has been adapted by their orthopedic technician. The real challenge was that we weren't willing to compromise the cover’s optics and appearance. We wanted to keep a narrow shape, similar to the healthy leg and not compromise on design. We also wanted to make our covers affordable for all customers. Hence the different product series.
I know that many customers are worried about sturdiness and how easily a cover might break, especially if you are very active. How durable are the covers and what do customers have to be aware of/be cautious with?
Our covers are absolutely break-proof and suitable for everyday use. If a scratch or similar signs of wear and tear occur, they can be touched up easily. The foil can be reordered and recoated at
A New Player In The Field Of Prosthetic Covers
You are not the only company out there that offers prosthetic covers. Some of the others have been around for some time, others only opened recently. What do you think sets your company apart from other companies producing covers for artificial limbs?
Yes, the market is getting more and more competitive, we feel that of course. However, we are convinced that the variety within our product range and the design - the material, the strength of our covers, the design options open or closed at the back - makes the covers look great and sets us apart. We have incorporated the feedback from amputees and other interested parties directly into product development. Be it with regard to the functional requirements, the design options (open or closed at the back) or the possibilities of being able to help shape the design themselves.
Do you actually think the market is soon getting crowded? Or is this just the beginning, opening up plenty of new opportunities for amputees to get what they want and have more or a say in how their prostheses look/how they express themselves?
Basically, I am convinced that conventional foam cosmetics will soon be completely replaced by covers. So it is only good that amputees have a choice and are not dependent on a single product or a single manufacturer. Tastes are different, not only in terms of design, but also in terms of shape. It is important to many of our customers that the cover is completely closed at the back and reflects the shape of a lower limb. Others want a sporty version that is cheap and simple. Our aim is to be able to fulfill all wishes and possibilities when purchasing a cover. This is what we have achieved with our product series.
Before we talk more about the company. can you tell us a bit more about your personal background/the background of the people involved in ce:koon?
After 25 years as a bookbinder, production manager and lastly deputy plant manager in a printing press in Upper Austria, I wanted to reorient myself professionally. As I have always been very interested in the healthcare industry, I decided to take an MBA course at the University of Applied Sciences in Krems. During this training, I also gained an insight into the orthopaedic technology sector, which increasingly turned out to be an industry of the future for me. The industry is increasingly concerned with the additive production of medical aids. This is exactly where the services of WAKO 3D Produktions- und Designagentur für Orthopädietechniker comes in, as they already want to secure their lead through 3D printing of medical aids. We offer training courses on the respective required programs such as Freeform and provide advice on initial applications and projects. I was able to create a solid knowledge base in 3D printing with the development of the prosthetic covers.
ce:koon is now backed by a well-functioning network consisting of a designer, marketing specialist, sales representatives and amputees who - because of their conviction about our product - support us very actively in our marketing activities.
Now that we know a bit more about you and your team, tell us more about the history of the company, the main stages of from the initial idea to now, early 2019. What were the landmarks along the way/times when you knew you have just come around an important corner and are moving on to the next level, so to speak?
The year 2018 was clearly marked by product development, the development of our marketing profile and the promotion of ce:koon. We have completed our homework so far. Now we want to concentrate fully on sales, expand existing cooperations with medical supply stores, orthopaedic technicians and knee manufacturers and enter into new partnerships. Another ongoing process for us is to repeatedly draw attention to our products with new designs and to strengthen the awareness about our brand.
What was the motivation/driving force to set up this company?
The motivation for founding WAKO ltd. and the ce:koon brand was on the one hand the desire to combine my professional past with my current education and my professional goal - to work in the
health care industry. My projects in 3D printing together with orthopaedic technicians finally led me towards prosthetic covers. The first feedback on my products was overwhelming, which
encouraged me to give this child its own name: ce:koon.
Involving Amputees Early On
Before starting with ce:koon, did you have any contact with amputees or people with limb differences? In the initial phase of setting up the company, were any amputees involved in developing the initial concept for the products? What are plans to involve them in the years to come?
Just an acquaintance of mine for whom I printed a foil with his desired motif and then covered his lower leg prosthesis. My actual approach involving amputees followed later through a joint project with the medical supply store Rosenau. Manuela Jukiel deserves special mention here as she was a very valuable testimonial for my covers right from the start. She encouraged me again and again on my way and has been actively supporting me ever since. Susanne Lang, for whom we created the Mandala design, has also been an incredibly valuable supporter and a deeply convinced user of our product.
We are always on the lookout for people wearing a prosthesis who are well connected in the sector and have a wide reach on social media, or athletes or public figures who encourage other wearers and show them what can be done with a prosthesis.
As a young company, we are of course very limited in our marketing budget. What we can offer, however, is to create an individual cover that is actively promoted by testimonials on social media.
Many other companies, both in the prosthetic sector as well as in the lifestyle sector, work with brand ambassadors. Do you? And if yes, who are your ambassadors and why are they a great fit for ce:koon?
As already mentioned, Manuela Jukiel and Susanne Lang have been actively supporting us as our ambassadors from the very beginning. David Behre, the German athlete, world champion and gold medallist at the Paralympics 2016 in Rio de Janeiro in the 4x100m relay, also wears our Spider Cover of the S-Series on both of his lower leg prostheses.
Especially for a company that is new on the market, amputees themselves are the best and most trustworthy ambassadors to create trust in our covers. To show why the product is optically top and also functionally meets all requirements. Due to the very close networking on social media among people with limb differences and the strong presence of individuals, it is of course enormously important as a supplier to continuously present the products in various ways.
We would be very pleased if amputees, who feel that our philosophy resonates with them and who like our products get in contact with us!
Looking back, what are you most proud of? What are the special moments you like to look back to?
I am proud of the fact that we are the only supplier on the market that can offer a product variety that meets all requirements. That we can meet every style, every demand for functionality and every wish in terms of form and design.
I still get my motivation from the memories of OT World 2018: Here we presented our prosthetic covers for the first time to a large specialist audience and the feedback on our covers was simply enormous. I like to think back to the situation when I installed Julia Porzelt's first Mandala cover. Within a few minutes a group of people had gathered around our stand and overall the interest of the visitors was so great that people lined up to talk to us.
May I ask you how many covers you sell per year? Do you know in how many different countries your covers are currently worn? And as many amputees pay these covers out of their own pocket, what prices are we looking at?
At the moment we have to say that we want to increase our sales figures for 2019 considerably. We laid the foundation for this in the previous year and have set up our distribution and sales channels.
So far we have delivered covers to Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. In principle, we can deliver to any country.
Every amputee is entitled to a prosthetic cosmetic and can choose between a foam cosmetic and a cover. Almost all health insurance companies now offer a choice between foam cosmetics and a prosthetic cover. Many of the health insurance companies cover the costs for a cover completely. Only a few companies still ask for a personal contribution. We are also happy to support our customers in this regard and sort out things with the insurance in advance.
What are ce:koon’s plans for the future? Anything you are especially excited about?
Our course is clearly set for growth. It is our goal when a wearer thinks about a cover, that he or she immediately thinks about us and does not shy away from contacting us. An important point of our company philosophy will always be to maintain personal contact with the amputees. Especially during these one-on-one conversation it becomes clear which cover best suits the customer, his or her lifestyle, requirements and ideas with regard to design.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers of The Active Amputee?
We would like to encourage amputees to contact us directly. Many people like our covers but believe that we are too expensive before they are fully informed about the overall pricing possibilities. It is also much easier to explain the possibilities of design in a conversation.
In this sense, we look forward to your call (+43 664 5462070) or your e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). Our start by looking us up under www.cekoon.com.
Post by Bjoern Eser, the creator of The Active Amputee.
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