As 3D printing technology continues to positively disrupt the medical industry, one of its first and still most prominent uses is for manufacturing custom-fitted prosthetics. These 3D printed assistive devices aren’t just restricted to humans either; in fact, a handful of different species, both domesticated and wild, have had their lives saved with 3D printed prosthetics.

Over this last year alone, we’ve covered a number of heart-warming stories involving 3D printed prosthetics for animals, from Sonic the kitten to Champ the German Shepherd, and even more unorthodox animals like the cockatoo from China’s Nanjing Zoo or Boris the injured tortoise. Now, thanks to 3D printing technology, a Little Blue Penguin from New Zealand named Bagpipes is waddling towards a new and improved life.

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Bagpipes the Little Blue Penguin

Due to an unfortunate run-in with a fishing line back in 2007, Bagpipes the penguin was brought to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch to have his foot amputated, and has been limping around ever since. According to Mal Hackett, a penguin keeper from the popular Antarctic Centre, the penguin would constantly incur pressure wounds on his stump. So they decided to design and 3D print some prosthetic prototypes for the Little Blue Penguin, hoping to restore his waddle back to normal.

ChristchurchThe prosthetic limb prototype was designed by Dr. Don Clucas, a senior lecturer in design and manufacturing from the University of Canterbury, who said the most difficult part of the process was scanning the restless penguin’s foot. The goal of the 3D printed prosthetic limb is to get Bagpipes using his feet and flippers normally again, rather than over-compensating for his amputated limb. Last Wednesday, the penguin was fitted with the prosthetic for the first time, which according to Dr. Clucas, went much better than they had expected.

Still, Dr. Clucas and the Christchurch Antarctic Centre have their work cut out for them. In an attempt to design the most optimal 3D printed prosthetic, the team has already created new prototypes for Bagpipes. According to Nicki Dawson, the general manager of the Christchurch Antarctic Centre, the new set of prosthetic prototypes will be fitted next week. These 3D printed prototypes are all produced in a plastic material, but the final fitting will also include a rubber material that will assist with the penguin’s ability to grip.

“The fitting today has gone better than expected,” Dr. Clucas said. “We still need to make a few adjustments like making it easier to clip on the prosthetic and keep it in place on his legs.”

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Bagpipes swimming with missing limb

This is a first for both the Christchurch Antarctic Centre and the country of New Zealand in general, which has never before treated a wild animal with a 3D printed prosthetic. The center hopes that, with the success of Bagpipes’ 3D printed prosthetic device, this technology will be utilized more in the future to help save injured animal residents. However, it isn’t exactly a first for the penguin species. Back in 2014, 3D printing was used to create a prosthetic device for an injured penguin from the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. In Bagpipes’ case, the work of the Christchurch Antarctic Centre and Dr. Clucas helps to expand the number of living creatures that have benefited from 3D printed prosthetics.

Discuss this inspirational story further over in the Bagpipes’ 3D Printed Prosthetic Leg forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: The Telegraph]
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