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2015/08/25

Injured Brazilian toucan receives custom 3D printed beak prosthetic

Although we may hear about 3D printed prosthetics which are designed for humans on a seemingly weekly basis, the technology is just as useful when it comes to saving bird beaks, too.  Just earlier this year, four Costa Rican 3D printing businesses - Elementos 3d, Ewa!corps, Publicidad Web and Grupo Sommerus - were able to produce a 3D printed prosthetic beak for a severely injured toucan bird in Alajuela, Costa Rica after discovering that it had been hit with a stick by a group of teenagers.  

For toucans and most other birds, surviving in the wild without a beak can be extremely difficult - if possible at all - due to the bird’s reliance on the beak for a number of functions ranging from foraging food and eating to cleaning its feathers.   

More recently, a toucan from Brazil who had lost a portion of its beak after flying into a window off the coast of São Paulo was also aided by a 3D printed prosthetic beak thanks to some generous locals who dedicated their time to helping the bird.

Traditionally, doctors have used the sterilized beaks of deceased toucans as prosthetics for living toucans with injured or broken beaks.  However, due to the many different sizes and shapes of beaks, many of the prosthetics made from the beaks of deceased toucans often break or otherwise don’t work as well as intended.  Thankfully, the ability to scan, 3D model and ultimately 3D print a prosthetic device using today’s 3D printing technologies has helped these doctors create custom-tailored solutions for these injured toucans.  

Thanks to help from six researchers including Cicero Moraes, a Brazilian 3D designer, the team spent two weeks developing a custom prosthetic based off of a 3D scan of the bird.  Once the model was finalized, the team printed a new beak using PLA filament, which took roughly one hour to print and was then surgically implanted on July 24th.  

According to Moraes, the finished 3D printed beak is very light and just weighs a few grams with other characteristics that are similar to a natural toucan beak.  "The nozzle that fits the toucan is cast with two centimeters inside and the underside is closed,” he explains.  “It is about 10 centimeters in total and contains few grams, very light."

Veterinarian Roberto Fecchio, a dental treatment specialist who was responsible for the operation, added that the use of 3D printed prostheses in animals is still being tested, however it has been a vital alternative for saving lives.  With this toucan alone, a traditional prosthetic was made but failed to work as intended.  Without a 3D printed prosthetic, it might have suffered unnecessarily.      

"This toucan could not eat, so if we did not do the operation he literally starve to death,” he explained.

"We had to think of something to help him. It is voluntary work involving many people - a multidisciplinary team - and we are learning as we go, too".

While 3D printed prosthetic beaks for toucans might not necessarily be very common, it is exactly that reason why 3D technologies are so powerful today - creators are able to solve problems on a case-by-case basis without the need to rely on existing products or systems.  Needless to say, 3D printing at least made two toucans (and a bunch of very generous helpers) very happy.   

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