3D Printers

Tortoise gets new shell, thanks to 3D printing

A team of vets in Brazil has come up with a novel use for 3D printing by producing a whole new shell for a tortoise that was injured in a fire.

The Animal Avengers in Sao Paulo have acquired quite a reputation. The team of four vets, a dental surgeon and a 3D printer has already created a range of prosthetics that have given injured animals a new lease of life.

Birds get serious braces

They were in the news recently after creating a new titanium beak for a toucan. A macaw that lost most of its beak had a partial titanium replacement attached with bone cement and screws in a ground-breaking operation. A parrot, meanwhile, received a reinforced plastic beak that is strong enough to crack nuts.

Now they have applied modern technology to a tortoise named Freddy, who suffered damage to 85% of his shell after he was caught in a brush fire last year. He was named, rather ironically, after Freddy Kruger in The Nightmare on Elm Street films.

3D design ace Cicero Moraes couldn’t just copy the damaged shell. He had to reconstruct the design by analysing healthy turtles, photographing Freddy and then constructing a CAD design of a healthy hull to fit his frame.

“’Freddy was the first tortoise in the world to receive a fully rebuilt hull and the first creature that we, as a newly formed group of animal rescuers, decided to help,” said Moraes. “To design the hull I took a series of pictures from all angles of Freddy as well as photos of a healthy tortoise to compare.”

A tortoise gets a new shell made entirely of corn based plastic thanks to 3D printing

A modern lightweight option

The final design was printed from four separate pieces of corn plastic. That means Freddy has a lightweight version of his previous shell that is essentially bone and keratin. That’s the same substance that makes up human hair, but in this compacted form it is much heavier than Freddy’s thoroughly modern alternative.

Whether this performance advantage makes him any faster in the real world, only time will tell.

A paintjob from perfection

Of course the medical team couldn’t leave Freddy standing out from the crowd, too. So the final step in the process was to hand paint the plastic to resemble a real tortoise shell.

Now, more than a year after the fire, Freddy is on the mend. He has a complete plastic shell and can live a normal life. Without the Animal Avengers, this tortoise and many other animals would have been put to sleep.

Moraes works alongside Dr Matheus Rabello, Dr Paulo Miamoto, Dr Roberto Fecchio, Dr Sergio Camargo and Dr Rodrigo Rabello. All of them volunteer their time to save exotic wild animals and pets that would otherwise face a bleak future.

Is it a proving ground for prosthetic tech?

It is, perhaps, an extravagant use of medical science and the team have put 3D printing techniques to work with these animals that are simply unavailable to many people. Their work is a test bed, though, and it shows how 3D printing can provide unorthodox solutions.

If the Brazilian Animal Avengers come up with one technique that proves useful in a hospital, then this could be all the incentive other teams around the world need to start similar projects to help injured and sick animals.

Even if the technology doesn’t cross over, it’s touching to see such a dedicated team doing their level best to give these unfortunate animals a second chance at life.