Sep 4, 2017 | By Benedict

Karl, an Abyssinian ground hornbill at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington D.C., has been fitted with a 3D printed prosthetic beak to help him eat.

Not being able to eat properly is one of the most frustrating experiences. Just ask anyone who has suffered stomach problems, had their wisdom teeth taken out, or just eaten way too much over Christmas.

For Karl, however, eating trouble came about thanks to a more serious issue: his lower beak was completely worn down.

Because Karl is a bird, you see, an Abyssian ground hornbill at the National Zoo. And without the proper use of his beak, Karl was having to tilt his head in weird ways to get the smallest morsels of food.

Compare this to the way a hornbill usually eats, and you’ll see the problem.

Normally, hornbills like Karl pick up prey with their long beaks, before throwing it up in the air and swallowing it. That’s quite a skill, and it requires a functional set of tools.

So when zoo staff noticed Karl struggling to much down his meals, they knew they had to do something to help.

And that help came from 3D printing. Using a Formlabs 3D printer, specialists from the Smithsonian Institution designed a new beak for Karl using CAD software, before printing it out and fitting it to the struggling bird with glue.

This followed unsuccessful attempts to make an acrylic beak by hand. These prostheses tended to fall off after around three weeks, and weren’t as natural-fitting as the zoo staff wanted.

Spookily, Karl’s new beak is actually modeled on the beak of a bird that lived in the National Zoo way back in the 1930s, whose skull had been kept at the National History Museum.

With the old skull to hand, and knowing that Karl’s head was roughly the same size, staff were able to 3D scan the old skull and create a better 3D printable design than they would have been able to otherwise.

Now, with the hornbill enjoying his new 3D printed beak, he can eat his meals in a more natural way and get back to enjoying his life at the zoo.

(Images: Smithsonian's National Zoo)

“Now Karl can once again use his natural behavior to eat and keep his belly full,” one member of staff said.

Another added that Karl, who has been at the zoo for around five years, could “hopefully propagate this species.”

Karl’s species, the Abyssinian ground hornbill, is an African bird found north of the equator. It has black feathers and a colorful face, characterized by distinctive blue skin around the eye and red skin on the neck and throat.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive