3D Printed Prosthetics: 8 Incredible Animal Prostheses | Sculpteo Blog

3D Printed Prosthetics: 8 Incredible Animal Prostheses

Posted By Jessica Van Zeijderveld on May 2, 2018 | 0 comments

We know how 3D printing is implemented on many different levels such as for the sports industry or for mass customization but what about animals? 3D printing is the solution for creating the best animal prostheses in order to give animals a better shot at life. Often, dogs, cats, wild foxes or other animals get hit by cars and these injured domestic and farm animals may need to have a leg or so amputated. Or what about wild animals like the elephants in countries like Thailand where they lose a leg due to stepping on a landmine, or even worse – when humans actively poach these animals and leave them hurt. About a decade ago or so, these animals would have been declared unfit for a qualitative life and perhaps put down. Now, thanks to additive manufacturing, a fitting prosthesis can be created. In this blog post, we will explain to you why it is of importance that veterinarians and doctors see the benefit of 3D printing their prosthesis and why companies and people should contribute to wildlife issues with these prostheses. Then, we will show you some incredible real-life cases of when 3D printing was used for animals prostheses. Last but not least, we will clarify on how you can start your own custom designed (animal) prosthesis project today with the 3D printing service Sculpteo.


Why 3D Printing Animal Prosthetics Is The Solution For Veterinarians

As we said before, a decade ago or so we didn’t have access to fitting animal prostheses. This has to with the fact that when it comes to humans, we know in what shapes and sizes we come so our prostheses have already had a long development history which fine tuned our prostheses. For the rest of the animalia, we haven’t had the research and time to properly create distinguished fitting prostheses for every kind of animal and the different breeds that come along with it. The prostheses we did have back then would often cause more harm than good because they might haven’t fit properly and thus damaged the growth or motoric system of an animal. In most cases it was recommended the animal to be put down because the costs would be too high to find a fitting prosthesis – or, there wasn’t a fitting prosthesis available for the said problem. Sometimes we can’t find the solution with traditional medical devices.


In this day and age, we can create a fitting prosthesis like that. By sedating the animal, a proper scan can then be made with a 3D scanner. With a bit of 3D modeling, a prosthesis animal limb can then be 3D printed. The reason why the production costs aren’t absurdly high is that additive manufacturing doesn’t require expensive molds or costly manual labor. Whereas regular manufacturing methods would first require to create complicated and one-of-a-kind molds of the animal’s limb which would only be used once  and which would need to be manually adjusted, 3D printing doesn’t demand these steps. Additive manufacturing only requires a 3D file that includes the 3D scan and that is mostly it! In other words, not only does 3D printing animal prostheses benefit the quality of life for the animals and pets themselves, the whole process is beneficial for a veterinarian’s workload as well. Simply order a 3D printed prosthetic and it will arrive at the animal hospital within mere days.


Examples of 3D Printed Animal Orthotics and Prosthetics

Below you may find some incredible 3D printed orthotics and prostheses for animals projects along with inspiring stories. These projects have seemingly improved the quality of life for these animals and in some cases, 3D printing was the only solution to the animal’s issue. Find out in what cases and for what issues this process can be useful.


1. Sonic The Bionic

Animal prostheses

Sonic the 4-month-old kitten was missing a bone in one of his front legs and due to this deformity, Sonic walked extremely uncomfortable. The animal shelter in Denver works alongside with students from the Art Institute of Colorado so they can 3D print a fitting prosthesis together. Dr. Louisa Poon said on behalf of the animal shelter in Denver that a case like that of Bionic, would normally have few solutions with each having a not very promising outcome thus giving him a 2nd chance in life with 3D printing. Before Sonic’s new paw gets 3D printed, the students first took a look at Sonic’s other paw’s movements without a prosthesis. By looking at how Sonic moved while wearing a prototype, the students could compare it to his movements without the prototype. By comparing it they could see if Sonic’s movements improved or if he was uncomfortable with the new paw. At times when he was clearly uncomfortable, the students knew they had to make adjustment and create a new prototype. The prototypes were made with plastic to keep the costs low but the final product is made out of Carbon Fiber to give the paw more stability and because it is more durable. It is very important for animals who are still in the first stage of life to have functional legs and paws. If not, the missing leg or paw could cause extreme deformities in the rest of their body when they grow up.


2. Seemore The Sea Turtle

Animal prostheses

Good old Seemore the sea turtle located at the Mall of America got a new 3D printed shell with the help of students of the University of Minnesota‘s Institute for Engineering in Medicine. Seemore got struck by a boat which largely damaged her shell and made her unable to dive underwater, which is, of course, crucial to her survival. The reason why she couldn’t dive underwater was because of the ‘’bubble but syndrome’’ which means that Seemore had a large bubble of air underneath his shell which kept her from going below water level. Before using 3D printing, the people at the Mall of America tried adding weights to Seemore’s shell but they kept coming loose because of the effects of salt water and because Seemore herself found them uncomfortable. When 3D printing the shell, students had thought of using materials that were comfortable and could withstand the salt water, rocks, and other creatures.  According to the team behind creating the new shell, they said they chose to 3D print it because it is cheap, quick and an easy way to make prototypes. They are still finalizing the end product but the project leader sees no reason why they wouldn’t use 3D printing for its final production form as well; quoting “The thing that 3D printing really allows us to do is get us something that is fully customizable”. The students themselves were very pleased with their project, knowing how much time and money they saved with 3D printing, and more importantly, knowing that Seemore The Sea Turtle will have a new comfortable working shell.


3. Tucker The 3D Dog

Animal prostheses

Tucker the dog was born missing several bones in his back right foot. Even though dogs can live with three legs, Warlow, his owner, reached out to students from the 3D printing club of the University of Missouri and challenged them to create Tucker a 3D printed functional paw. The students took on the challenge and created a 3D file from a cast that was made of Tucker’s paw. Their first prototypes were made from white plastic and metal, but later on, they turned to PLA because it was an easier material to work with. Now Tucker can run around a lot more comfortable.


4. Lucky Duck Peg

Animal prostheses

Lucky Duck Peg was not so lucky during his unknown accident where he endured an injured foot. However, he was lucky enough to have now-owner Patsy Smith to find him and reach out to 8th grade students from the Armorel EAST Lab in Arkansas. The students, being still new to 3D printing, found the project quite a challenge but in the end, they succeeded in printing a prosthesis that was comfortable for Peg as well. The final prosthesis was likely made out of PLA . It took 30 tries before the children got it right due to them thinking it would merely needed to be a shaft but there was more to it than meets the eye.


5. Hiss Majesty The Lizard

Animal prostheses

‘’Hiss’’ Majesty The Lizard is located at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. This sixteen-year-old lizard lost one of his legs to cancer but a team of 3D designers and vets teamed up to create this lizard a new custom prosthetic limb. The team created molds of the lizard’s existing leg to then make a 3D scan of the mold. By turning this scan into a 3D file, they were able to print it. Lizards require to be able to make flexible movements and thus his new limb needed to be flexible as well. They made the limb flexible by using lightweight silicone so Hiss Majesty can climb, run and eat without being restrained in movement.


6. Bagpipes The Penguin

Animal prostheses

Sometimes an animal can be in pain when missing a limb. Bagpipes the penguin would keep on creating pressure wounds on his stump. According to its caretaker “When he got out of the pool he was using parts of his body that he shouldn’t, like his beak and flippers, so hopefully this prosthetic will help with that”. The stump was caused due to his leg needing to be amputated back in ‘07 when he ran into a fishing line accident. Bagpipes needed a new prosthetic leg otherwise he would keep hurting himself. 3D engineers created 3D printed prototypes all made from a plastic material, but the final fitting will include a rubber material in order for Bagpipes to have a grip on wet surfaces. It only took 30 hours for the 3D model to be 3D printed into a prototype prosthesis. By now, Bagpipes would be wearing the finalized prosthesis.


7. Tennessee Veterinarians

Tennessee veterinarians are using 3D printed models for pre-Surgical planning and practice. The vets store a 3D printer in-house so that they can practice before complicated procedures start. First, they make a CT scan of the animal’s body part or organ they’re going to be operating on, then they put it in 3D modeling software so they can finalize it before they print it with 3D printers. By being able to practice first, these Tennessee veterinarians are able to improve the quality of the surgery and thus improve the outcome.


8. The CAP project

One of the biggest 3D printed animal prostheses projects out there is the CAP project. This project is building a database of 3D prosthesis designs that can then be downloaded by veterinarians and others alike. It can also be modified to fit the needs of a particular animal’s issue. These databases allow for 3D enthusiasts to create incredibly helpful 3D files of animal prostheses and for veterinarians to quickly find a file, perhaps of a prosthetic beak; prosthetic devices; animal bracing; leg braces; etc, and then 3D print it so they can then use for their own patients.


Printing Animal Prostheses

3D printing an animal prosthesis a case of trial and error. Animals are unable to notify the creator if the prosthesis is too tight; too big; too small, or just too uncomfortable. Luckily, 3D printing is ideal for trial and error cases like this. Whereas regular prostheses would be too expensive to adjust every little detail to, 3D printing would allow this. Another thing is that once an animal or organism grows – the prosthesis needs to grow along as well. Again, 3D printing does not require pre-made molds. By changing a few things in the 3D file, a new and adjusted prosthesis can be created with 3D printers. Do you run an animal clinic yourself where you wish to make use of better and more qualitative animal prostheses, or do you and your team want to see how far you can go with 3D printed animal or human prostheses? Upload your 3D file here and receive it within days!

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