Today, 3D printing is a multibillion dollar industry, used in factories, research labs, and even in the depths of space. At the same time, amateur creatives are still using their desktop printers to make everyday miracles happen. Recently, Thingiverse designer Chad Lalande used an inexpensive desktop printer to make assistive tech for his blind dog: a set of plastic hoops that would prevent her from running into walls.
Sienna, Lalande’s 18-year-old Pomeranian, was a poor fit for the existing assistive tech on the market. At two pounds, she was too small for most safety cages, and hated to have anything on her head. So Lalande, who had already made up assistive boots for his sister’s dog and a homemade wheelchair for his father’s dog, got to work designing.
Lalande sketched his design out in Lightwave, then sliced it down for print in Cura. He used a Creality Ender 5 to 3D print and test the designs. So far, he’s been through six iterations of the design, and he’s documented his process online.
The first version was narrow enough that Sienna kept poking her head out and bumping into things, so he made the next one larger and higher. On a suggestion from a fellow designer, he added an extra arm to Version 5 to hold the hoops higher. But that addition (plus the plus the 40% infill he added for extra strength) made it too heavy for her.
The sixth version, slimmed down and set to 20% infill, fixed that. It’s made up of a middle loop for Sienna to poke her head through, a larger hoop to stop her from running into walls, and an arm to help hold up that second loop. On the back, three slots let Lalande hook the device into her harness.
Lalande says the device is still a work in progress, but the newest version has gotten the Sienna stamp of approval.
“Sienna is still getting used to wearing it, but she complains less about it now,” said Lalande. “She’s 18 years old so she may not be around much longer, but if I can make her more comfortable in the time she has, all the better.”
Of course, 3D printed assistive tech for animals is nothing new. Animals have gotten new feet, beaks, shells, and even tails over the last few years because of additive manufacturing. One of the most famous cases was Patches the dachshund, who received a custom titanium skull patch back in 2017 to help cover a hole in her skull made by a tumor. 3D printing is ideal for veterinary medicine because it’s inexpensively customizable, capable of making prosthetics that fit exactly without breaking the bank.
Still, Lalande cooked up his project on a standard desktop printer that cost less than $500 with a common PLA filament. Sienna’s hoop is proof that, while industry and research are making big change with 3D printing, amateur designers with ideas are still making little changes.
As Lalande said, “I just saw a need and went about solving that need.”
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