In what is perhaps the the most adorable development in the 3D printing world, some inspiring students, a few hardworking vets and a team of generous 3D printing experts all worked together to help out one small penguin. Yellow Purple, adorably nicknamed “Purps” is a 23-year-old African penguin at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. After a small injury in her left leg, resident veterinarians discovered that the penguin had torn a tendon in her ankle, causing her to walk with a handmade boot to support the missing tendon.
“Our mission here is to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through conservation, education and research…and through this project, we’re actually doing all three,” says Kelly Matis, Vice President of Education and Conservation at Mystic Aquarium. By partnering with their local Mystic Middle School (who had recently funded buying a 3D printer) and the ACT Group (from whom the school had purchased the printer), the Mystic Aquarium was able to create an innovative and educational solution to Purps’ problem.
The creation of Purps’ original boot was a time consuming process. A cast of the penguin’s foot was initially molded by hand, with the final product being a bulky weight for the small animal to lug around. As a solution, the ACT Group utilized 3D Systems‘ ProJet MJP 5500x to print a custom-fit, lightweight alternative orthotic boot for Purps. Using a model cast from the Aquarium, students at Mystic Middle School 3D scanned Purps’ foot, which would then be used to make a prototype boot model. Details were added to the model using 3D Systems’ Geomagic Sculpt program. Purps’ mobility around the aquarium was notably improved upon using her new, more efficient 3D printed boot. Mitas commented on the success and ingenuity of the overall project saying, “It’s been truly amazing to work with the middle school students, the ACT Group and their 3D technology, and the veterinary staff here at the aquarium and put it all together in order to make a real benefit to the health of one of our endangered species.”