Jun 1, 2016 | By Tess

We have seen some truly remarkable moments of people from around the world helping animals with 3D printing. From dogs, to cats, ponies, ducks, and even to parrots, 3D printing has given kindhearted people a way to effect some positive change in the lives of our furry friends. Most recently, Bagpipes the penguin, was given a new lease on life with a custom made 3D printed foot, and despite being a cold climate animal, his story is heartwarming.

In 2007, Bagpipes was brought to the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand after having been found with a fishing line wrapped around his left leg. Unfortunately, the leg had to be amputated, and because of his literally unstable condition, Bagpipes became a resident of the center where he has managed to hop around with only one leg for the past 9 years.

Recently, however, the researchers and caregivers at the International Antarctic Centre decided to try to bring some balance into Bagpipes’ life by making a custom designed 3D printed foot for the Little Blue penguin to help him stand straight, waddle, and even swim. The 3D design and modeling for the prosthetic penguin foot was done in collaboration with Don Clucas, a senior lecturer in design and manufacturing at the University of Canterbury.

As Clucas explains, the hardest part of the design process was to get a proper 3D scan of Bagpipes’ right foot because the penguin was so wriggly. Once they got the scan, however, Clucas was able to create a perfect replica of the penguin’s left foot, a design process which reportedly took nearly 30 hours to complete.

With the design complete, a number of prosthetic penguin foot models were 3D printed, each with varying lengths and joints, so that Bagpipes could try them on for size. The one-legged penguin was fitted with the prosthetics earlier today, and after some struggle getting it on because of the penguin’s squirms, Bagpipes was able to stand upright.

Before the 3D printed prosthetic, Bagpipes had spent many years with foam beer bottle holders and neoprene wrapped around his amputated leg, which provided some balance but was not an adequate solution. As the center’s penguin keeper Mal Hackett explained, “When he gets out of the pool he is using parts of his body that he shouldn’t, like his beak and flippers, so hopefully this prosthetic will help with that.”

Of course, it will take Bagpipes some time to get used to the 3D printed prosthetic flipper, as he skated and fell a couple times when first trying it on. The IAC researchers and Don Clucas are also hoping to improve on the 3D printed foot’s design to make it as comfortable and efficient as possible for the small penguin. Currently, the 3D printed prosthetic prototype is made from a hard plastic material, but for the final fitting it will be made from a rubber material with more grip and flexibility.

All in all, it seems 3D printing has once again been used to help an animal in need, this time by giving Bagpipes the penguin his happy feet once more.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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