Roger Henry found a great project for his senior project year at Colorado Technical University. Canyon Critter Reptile Rescue in Golden, Colorado had a leopard tortoise named Cleopatra with health problems and a ridged, bumpy shell. Henry was able to design a prosthetic 3D printed shell for the tortoise to wear when socializing with other animals.
Henry used SolidWorks and an estimated 600 hours to design the shell prosthetic through 21 iterations. The college, animal rescue and 3D Printing store worked together using Makerbot and Taz printers to build the two piece shell assembly. Cleopatra will wear the prosthetic when interacting with other animals. As a tortoise in the teenage years she is expected to live to around 80 years old, and grow two to three times in size, requiring new prosthetics in the decades to come.
A team of engineers and scientists called the Animal Avengers in Sao Paulo, Brazil also made news in 2015 when the built a shell for Freddy, a tortoise whose shell and body were burned in a fire. Freddy’s shell assembly was designed in four pieces using Blender 3D by Brazilian designer Cicero Moraes.
Freddy’s shell resurfaced on social media and news outlets in the last month but both of the turtle instances are from 2015. The earliest animal prosthetic I can find is an eagle named Beauty who was shot by a poacher in 2005 and received a prosthetic beak around 2008. The beak was made from a nylon instead of the PLA used on the tortoises, and it looks more like a traditional human prosthetic fitting, with lots of adjustments and a dremel tool used to remove excess material. As you might expect, the eagle didn’t enjoy the process of having a beak glued to her face, but adjusted over time.
These stories aren’t rich with technical details but are great examples of the possibilities of 3D printing and the work that can be done when applying the maker spirit to real life problems. 3Ders.org has a great story posted today about a team from the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine working with the College of Engineering to scan and 3D print a bone for an eagle’s humerus bone.