Buttercup the duck gets a new 3D prosthetic foot, courtesy of NovaCopy, a local 3D-printing company in Arlington, Tennessee. Buttercup hatched on November 12, 2012, and employees at the Feathered Angels Sanctuary noticed that he was born with his left foot turned backwards.
The employees got the idea to make the duck’s life better by having a prosthetic foot created for Buttercup after the inverted foot was amputated.
NovaCorp, using a bit of silicon and a 3D printer, first created a model of his sister, Minnie’s, foot. Then, they plugged the model into a 3D printer to create a silicon version for Buttercup’s left foot.
According to Tim Caffrey, who is a 20-year veteran of 3D printing though he wasn’t involved with printing the duck’s foot, a mold of the foot was printed, rather than the foot itself.
Once NovaCorp had this mold, the company likely poured a vulcanizing rubber material into the it. Feathered Angels posted photos and videos of each step in a Facebook journal.
When the prosthetic foot was ready, sanctuary owner Mike Garey slid it on over Buttercup’s mangled left foot, using a nylon sock to attach the prosthetic.
Mike took Buttercup outside, and captured the duck’s first steps with his 3D prosthetic foot on camera. In the video, you can see that it’s night, and that Buttercup is a little bit shaky at first. Buttercup gets used to the 3D foot fairly quickly, and within a couple of minutes, he picks up his pace.
The 3D printed foot is red, looks thick, and is somewhat clunky; but, it is working out fine so far for Buttercup, as you can see in the video.
How much would printing the 3D prosthetic foot cost you if you had a pet duck with a similar problem?
According to Caffrey, he estimates that the full printing process, including the cost of labor for the mold maker, would come to about $5,000.
Some people call the items these printers make “novelty items.” But, 3D printers are becoming more and more used in the medical world, and the devices have many real-world applications.
As Caffrey explains:
For instance, in June 2011, a woman from the Netherlands received the world’s first full jaw transplant. The lower half of her jaw was created using a 3D-printed mold. Also, just this last year, the Boise-based Kinetic Engineering Group modeled and printed a new beak for a mangled bald eagle.
A South African man, earlier this year, designed the “robohand.” It is a mechanical hand that helps people who have lost fingers to clasp objects. A 3D printer created the majority of the hand.
Though there are several commercial 3D models available, Caffrey warns that these machines, which retail for about $2,000 to $5,000, do not print at the same professional quality level as the 3D printers utilized in professional industries such as health and aeronautics.
Basically, what Caffrey is saying is that while anyone can download the designs for the duck foot, it takes a professional-grade printer to create the mold for prosthetics like the left foot that saved Buttercup’s stride.
You can still do some pretty cool things with the 3D printers that are available to the general public, but some projects might be best left up to professional 3D printing companies, at least until the technology becomes more widespread to tackle more complex projects.
Thanks to one such company, NovaCorp,Buttercup gets himself a new prosthetic 3D foot.
It’s a little bit dark, as it was taken at night, but check out the video below of Buttercup walking with his new foot!
Written by: Douglas Cobb