Mar 22, 2016 | By Kira
Last summer, a red-footed tortoise from Brasilia became the first tortoise ever to receive a 3D printed shell as a replacement after her own was completely destroyed in a horrific forest fire. Named after the horror villain Freddy Krueger (before her rescuers realized she was actually a female) Fred the tortoise has become a model of how 3D printing technology can benefit all forms of life. Now, to make her feel even more at home in her new 3D printed digs, Brazilian artist Yuri Caldera has hand-painted her shell to mimic the real-life patterns and colors found in nature.
Fred, or Freddie as she is now affectionately called, was initially found near-death by Rodrigo Rabello, a passionate veterinarian from the Brasilia region. Her shell was completely destroyed, she hadn’t eaten in weeks, and her condition was so dire, that Rabello found himself in the difficult position of deciding whether or not to put her down. Luckily, he instead contacted a highly skilled and forward-thinking team of veterinarians and scientists to help give her a second chance.
The process began with Cicero Moraes, who took multiple photographs of Fred and of healthy tortoises in order to create a 3D model of a complete shell with Fred’s exact measurements. The 3D model was sent to dentist Paulo Miamoto, who 3D printed it in four pieces using a desktop 3D printer and corn-based PLA filament. Finally, veterinary surgeon Roberto Fecchio led the surgery. In the end, the 3D printed shell fit so perfectly, no screws were required to keep it in place.
After surviving the forest fire, two cases of pneumonia, and living without food for 45 days, Freddie was back on her feet and making headlines as the first tortoise to receive a completely 3D printed shell replacement rather than just a prosthetic or shell cover.
Yet her re-integration was still not complete. The white PLA material used stood in stark contrast to Freddie’s natural environment, making her stand out like, well, an albino tortoise. To help solve this problem, the veterinary team researched types of paints that would be safe for the tortoise, and Brazilian artist Yuri Caldera stepped up to give her back her natural colors. The 3D printed shell was carefully dismantled, and Caldera meticulously hand-painted all four pieces with the same colors and patterns of her original shell.
With the 3D printed shell back on, Freddie is almost indistinguishable from any other tortoise found in the wild.
Due to her injuries, however, Freddie is not yet ready to actually re-enter the wild, and is staying in Rabello’s care. According to Brazilian sources, the team will continue to monitor her, and, since this is the first 3D printed shell of its kind, they will be studying how it holds up in both the medium and long-term, potentially adjusting or re-printing it if necessary, and using it as a model for future cases.
It’s a happy ending for Freddie, but even more importantly, the success of her 3D printed shell has opened the door to a new era of veterinary medicine that could benefit countless other creatures, both domestic and in the wild.
Not only does the first-of-its-kind 3D printed shell fit perfectly, helping to protect Freddie from the sun and natural hazards, but it was also extremely cost-effective to create: the PLA material was derived from low-cost corn and priced at only $136 per kg, the 3D printer used was manufactured locally in Brazil, and the software used to design it was completely free. This effective and accessible technology means that other animals in similar situations could easily benefit from their own 3D printed prosthetics.
In fact, Moraes, Miamoto, Rabello and Fecchio have since put their technical skills to work by 3D printing a new beak for an injured toucan, and creating the world’s first titanium 3D printed beak for a beautiful Brazilian macaw. Without intervention, these animals wouldn’t have survived the wild, yet thanks to 3D printing, they’ve been given a second chance to live long and healthy lives.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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