It looks like the different forms of additive manufacturing, i.e. rapid prototyping and 3D printing, are taking the world in their stride. Saving lives, educating people, ensuring better manufacturing and preparing spare parts are just a few utilities of rapid prototyping. Aerospace, military, medicine and education are some of the fields where rapid prototyping and 3D printing have left a permanent mark. As the industry flourishes, the world hears new success stories every day that touches thousands of lives. Recently, there was a rather unlikely client for 3D printed prosthetic parts in New Zealand.
This client was none other than Bagpipes, an adorable little Blue Penguin. In 2007, poor Bagpipes met with a cruel twist of fate as he lost his left foot, being stuck in a fishing line. Since then, the unfortunate creature has been wriggling and hopping with an indomitable spirit. His current home is International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch where he plays with other members of his species. He has been staying there for the last nine years. When he was first brought to the center, his leg had to be amputated due to the injuries he faced.
Scientists and prosthetic experts took up the challenge of returning the gift of happy feet to our little brave penguin. As a result, Bagpipes took his very first step last Wednesday, using a brand new left limb. This 3D printed digital leg will help the penguin swim, waddle and stand like other penguins do. According to Mal Hackett, one of the penguin keepers at Antarctic Centre, Bagpipes would often get wounds at the bottom of his stump due to pressure. The prosthetic foot means that the creature will never have to suffer that kind of wounds, helping to take the weight off.
After nine long years of hobbling around helplessly, our little brave hero will now be able to stand on his own, with the weight of his body now evenly distributed. Penguin keepers further report that in order to give Bagpipes’ foot some support, he has been using various kinds of foam beer bottle holders wrapped around the stump and cut into size for the last ten years of his life. Getting out of the pool would be a daily struggle as Bagpipes would be using the body parts for support that he should not, such as his flippers and beak. The prosthetic limb will help him rely on his feet again.
The 3D printed prosthetic limb was created by Don Clucas, a senior lecturer in design and manufacturing at the University of Canterbury. He came up with the computer design, tweaked the model to eliminate imperfections and finally 3D printed the prosthetic limb for Bagpipes. The biggest challenge, however, was to get Bagpipes to keep still to have a scan of his good foot, so that his new foot fit. Don Clucas says, “The hardest part of it was scanning his foot because he was quite wriggly. Even then, the fitting went better than expected.” He did not start walking instantly after the limb was fitted, he kept falling flat on his beak a couple of times before he could actually get used to it. There are still however, some adjustments that need to be made so that the prosthetic can be clipped on easily and kept in place on his leg. Even though made out of plastic, the prosthetic limb will be finally fitted with a rubber material to help the penguin steady his grip over different kinds of surfaces. The penguin keepers want to rehabilitate Bagpipes to use his foot as he would normally, instead of overcompensating with flippers and the good foot.
Dr. Clucas created the artificial limb in around thirty hours. Bagpipes tried the 3D printed models for the first time, which had different joints and limb lengths. Much to Dr. Clucas’s relief, the fitting went better than expected. According to Christchurch Antarctic Centre’s General Manager Nicki Dawson, the new prototypes are being designed for Bagpipes to have another fitting due next Wednesday. This happens to be the first time any wild animal would be fitted with a 3D printed artificial limb in New Zealand. The Antarctic Centre believes that with the help of this technology, other animal amputees in their care would be benefitted immensely.
Earlier in different parts of the world, there have been other amazing animal success stories for 3D printing. Two legged dog Tumbles was given another shot at a healthy life by researchers from Ohio University Innovation Center, who created a 3D printed wheelchair to help the dog get around. Similar is the case of a tortoise suffering from a lethal disease that caused the decaying of its shell. To protect the creature, a 3D printed prosthetic tortoise shell was made. This lightweight shell has been attached to the tortoise with the help of a Velcro.
Like many of these lucky animals, Bagpipes can now walk like other penguins do and just remember to be ‘cute and cuddly’.
Ronan Ye- Founder 3E-RP
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