In the news there have been multiple stories regarding the ways in which 3D printing technology has helped amputees or people with debilitating physical conditions. 3D printed prosthetics are becoming increasingly prevalent, since the technology allows for bespoke items to be printed which perfectly fit the dimensions of the patient, all for a far cheaper price than would be possible with conventional manufacturing methodologies. While not as widely publicised, 3D printed prosthetics have not only helped humans, but they are being used to improve the lives of animals too. Prosthetics are not only helping to improve the mobility of the animals, but amazingly, they are also creating a noticeable improvement in the temperament and confidence of animals who have been fitted with these devices.
3D printed paws for a lucky labrador
Labrador mix Jack spent the first three years of his life trying to balance his weight on his front feet, all because he lost his back paws as a puppy. Fortunately for Jack, his owners allowed an experimental procedure to be carried out on him, which involved fitting two 3D printed titanium feet to the back of his hind legs. Thanks to the procedure, in no time Jack was galavanting around just like any regular dog. Veterinary Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little attributed the success of the surgery to the fact that 3D printing technology allowed for the sockets of the prosthetics to designed to be a perfect fit for the contours of Jack's bones, allowing for excellent mobility.
Bald eagle receives new beak
Bird conversationist Frink Cantwell found an Alaskan bald eagle named Beauty barely alive, with the top of her beak missing from a gunshot wound. Beaks are essential for bald eagles to feed, so Cantwell’s team had to keep her alive by feeding her liquid via a tube. By utilising 3D scanning technology and stereolithography, mechanical engineer Nate Calvin came to the rescue, producing a prototype beak made out of a nylon-based polymer. Calvin's dentist, who helped to perform the operation, likened the procedure to fitting a patient with dentures, which was relatively straightforward. The very next day Beauty was able to use the new beak to preen her feathers and feed herself.
The amputee duck
In British Columbia, Canada, Dudley the duck was left without a leg after he was put in a chicken coup and was attacked by an aggressive chicken. Terence Loring, founder of 3 Pillar Designs, who offer 3D printing among other services, was encouraged to help Dudley after hearing about his story. After watching numerous videos to learn about the movement of ducks, Loring put his biomedical engineering training to use and created a 3D template for a prosthetic leg for Dudley and sent it to 3D engineering firm Proto3000 for construction. While the first leg unfortunately broke, this gave Loring the opportunity to create a more advanced hinge-less version out of soft and flexible rubber-like plastic - it worked a charm. As Dudley continues to grow, Loring takes pride in creating new and more innovative prosthetic legs to help Dudley walk about with ease. This technology has huge ramifications for the rehabilitation of army veterans who have lost limbs or suffered severe damage in combat.