Gorilla Sports GE’s First 3D Printed Titanium Cast


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How do you help a gorilla with a broken arm? Sounds like the start of a bad joke a zookeeper might tell, but it’s an actual dilemma recently faced by staff at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Gladys, an 11-year-old Gorilla who resides at the zoo, recently found herself diagnosed with a broken humerus after a minor scuffle with some friends.

Gladys the gorilla

Gorillas—like zoo animals in general—aren’t that different from the families who visit them at the zoo. It is not uncommon for them to fall victims to scrapes and bruises while going about their day, just like the rest of us. The vet staff at the Cincinnati Zoo are used to working with outside experts to help patch their wounded animal friends. In order to treat Gladys, they collaborated with local anesthesiologists and surgeons, but found they still needed some extra help.

As with an injured human, there is always a chance an animal in recovery can re-injure themselves. While the surgery to patch Gladys up was a success, there were strong concerns the cast they’d created for her arm wouldn’t be sufficient. Since gorillas aren’t known for following post-op recovery suggestions, doctors realized they would need a sturdier cast to support her.

“Gladys is naturally curious about her new cast, and she doesn’t fully understand the need to preserve it for her recovery,” explained Dr. Mike Wenninger, Cincinnati Zoo’s Director of Animal Health. “So, we turned to our friends at GE [Additive] to help us create a sturdier cast.” 

Enter: GE Additive. Eagle-eyed readers might recall this isn’t the first time they’ve come through to assist zookeepers. It took less than a week for engineers at GE Additive to use scans of Glady’s first cast to print and post-process a titanium upgrade. The two parts of the device weighed eight pounds and were printed in about 65 hours. This is just the most recent time that 3D printing has been used to help out our friends in the animal kingdom.

“Before the titanium cast, we were very limited on the spaces Gladys could safely be in. With this addition, Gladys can ‘graduate’ to additional behind-the-scenes spaces that will allow her to have more choice and exploration throughout the day,” said Victoria McGee, the zoo’s zoological manager of primates.

Gladys will have about another month of recovery ahead of her, but it seems like everything should go well. While we hope Gladys and the other gorillas stay out of scrapes, it’s good to know we continue to develop the AM applications to assist with animal injuries.

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