The superhero of 3D printing
Disabled animals now have the chance to move freely thanks to 3D-printed prostheses. Maciej Szczepański, a fifth-year student of veterinary medicine at Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences, uses the Zortrax Inventure 3D printer to create prostheses tailored to the individual needs of a given animal.
This article originally appeared in the April '22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.
So far, Szczepański has helped Sonia and Leto – dogs who lost their limbs due to traffic accidents.
3D printing, thanks to its flexibility, low production costs and rapid prototyping opportunities is used in many industries and in recent years has been ranked among the fastest growing markets in the world (Statista Research Department, October 2021). One of the sectors increasingly using additive manufacturing technologies is medicine. Among the many other possibilities offered by 3D printing in this industry, users can enumerate the production of pre-operative models or dedicated medical devices. Maciej Szczepański decided to use 3D printing to help maimed animals.
During his studies, Szczepański discovered a passion for the field of animal orthopedics. In addition to participating in orthopedic surgeries, he also explored specialised literature on the available methods of helping the disabled animals. He noticed that, while in the United States for example, the provision of prosthetics for animals is very common, in Poland the situation isn’t that widespread.
“When I realised that creating prostheses for animals is still a niche in Poland, I decided that I would focus on veterinary prosthetics. Gathering materials about animal prostheses was not an easy task and it took me a long time due to the small amount of information available on the subject. When I finally succeeded, I set myself a goal to create a minimum of two prostheses for two different cases,” said Szczepański.
Szczepański began working on the prostheses for his first pet patients: Sonia and Leto. Sonia is a female dog that was hit by a car and lost part of her hind paw. Leto, a Labrador, had his front paw damaged by a train. The first step towards creating suitable prostheses was for Szczepański to meet the animals and take the necessary measurements, such as the length of the missing limb and its circumference, as well as an impression using alginate. Then the future veterinarian scanned a cast of the dog's stump, created after pouring special ceramic plaster over the impression.
Although initially Szczepański outsourced the next steps of the project, after receiving the Zortrax Inventure 3D printer from Zortrax S.A., he gained more autonomy and was able to fully engage in his project, testing different solutions made by himself as soon as the print was ready.
He added: “Having my own 3D printer makes my work much easier and more efficient. I can now print a prototype on the Zortrax Inventure and immediately check if my assumptions are right. Thanks to having the equipment in my studio, I can also test different infill density levels of the printed prostheses. I no longer need to outsource the printing, which saves both time and money.”
The prostheses, made almost entirely with 3D printing, are now being tested by the dogs. According to Szczepański, Leto accepted the prosthesis created for him and started moving in it like a healthy dog within 15 minutes after it was fitted.
Natalia Jusiak, Head of Marketing at Zortrax S.A said: “The multitude of 3D printing applications proves how dynamically this industry is developing. In our work, we see various projects using our 3D printers that make a real impact. We always try to support those initiatives and innovative ideas which solve serious problems. When we learned the story of Mr Szczepański, whose goal is also to help maimed animals, we decided to support his project. We are happy to be a part of it and we are proud that our printer has brought tangible benefits to the creative process.”
Szczepański is currently in the process of setting up a startup that he hopes will be able to help many animals in need, not only without limbs, but also those suffering from other orthopedic problems.