Who doesn’t love a penguin? I’m sure there’s someone out there with a distaste for penguins, but I don’t know them. Penguins are adorable, and the success of films like March of the Penguins or Happy Feet is evidence of our culture-spanning adoration of the fat, waddling, flightless birds. Unfortunately, penguins don’t always think as highly of other penguins as we do, and a case of penguin-on-penguin violence at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut resulted in one poor little penguin hobbling around with an injured flexor tendon.
Yellow/Purple, aka Purps, is one of a group of endangered African penguins living in a colony at Mystic Aquarium. A few years ago, she got into a skirmish with another penguin and tore the flexor tendon in her ankle, leaving her unable to walk properly. Veterinarians at the aquarium created a small molded plastic boot to stabilize and support her injured leg so she could walk, but the boot was rather heavy and made walking awkward for the small penguin. It also needed to be replaced frequently, which was a time-consuming process, so they decided to look for a different approach. Luckily, they knew just who to contact – their longtime partner Mystic Middle School, which had just gotten a 3D printer from ACT Group, a Connecticut-based partner of 3D Systems.
The students at Mystic Middle School were unsurprisingly thrilled to be asked to design a 3D printed boot for the penguin, though they were still new to the technology. Library Media Specialist Sue Prince contacted the ACT Group for assistance, and they were glad to help. The company facilitated a workshop in 3D technology for the students, who used 3D Systems’ Geomagic Capture 3D scanner to scan a cast of Purps’ foot provided by the aquarium. They then imported the scan data into Geomagic Sculpt to add details such as treads and closures to the boot, which they printed on a 3D Systems ProJet MJP 5500X multi-material 3D printer.
“The students truly amazed us in how their creative thinking, imagination and intuitiveness led this process,” said Nick Gondek, Director of Additive Manufacturing and Applications Engineer for ACT Group. “It was rewarding to provide them with a technology that could keep up with their ingenuity, and to watch them pick up the software so quickly. It further demonstrates the need to have students learning to digitally design and manufacture at a younger age.”
The 5500X allowed for the creation of a strong yet elastic boot made from both flexible and rigid materials. It fit better than Purps’ existing boot, and was also more lightweight and durable; according to the penguin’s caretakers, she immediately took off across the exam room as soon as her new boot was fitted, walking more normally than she had in the five years since her injury. Now Purps can waddle and swim as well as her fellow penguins, and hopefully has made up with – or is at least keeping her distance from – the penguin who gave her a busted ankle in the first place.
“Our goal is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through conservation, education and research,” said Kelly Matis, Vice President of Education and Conservation at Mystic Aquarium. “In this project we achieved each of these desired outcomes while benefiting the health and well being of one of our endangered species.”
Purps isn’t the first penguin to benefit from 3D printing. You may remember Bagpipes, a Little Blue Penguin in New Zealand who recently got a whole new 3D printed foot. While designing a boot may not have been quite as challenging as creating a viable 3D printed foot, the students still learned a great deal about 3D printing and design, as well as how to create a workflow to take an idea from concept to reality – something that will serve them well in the future. Plus, they also benefit from the knowledge that they helped a penguin to walk again – not many people can say that. Perhaps a few future veterinarians, doctors and/or medical device developers will emerge from that classroom.
“This project demonstrates how our end-to-end 3D printing solutions provide a seamless workflow that can enable enhanced results from the classroom to the lab to the factory floor. With the right tools and the right focus, no problem is too big or too small to solve,” said Derek Johnson, Director, Product Management, Professional Printers, 3D Systems.
You can watch the full story of Yellow/Purple and her middle school saviors below. Discuss further in the 3D Printed Penguin Boot forum over at 3DPB.com.