3D printing new limbs for pets

2 mins read

Disabled animals now have the chance to move freely thanks to the 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. So far, he has helped Sonia and Leto – the 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*. One of the sectors increasingly using additive manufacturing technologies is medicine. Among the possibilities offered by 3D printing in this industry, one can enumerate the production of pre-operative models or dedicated medical devices. Maciej Szczepański, a final-year student of veterinary medicine, 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 specialized 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 realized that creating prostheses for animals is still a niche in Poland, I decided that I would focus on veterinary prosthetics. Gathering materials on the subject of 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," says Szczepański.

This way, the student 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 Maciej 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 Maciej 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 by himself as soon as the print was ready.

"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." - adds Maciej.

The prostheses almost entirely made with 3D printing are now being tested by dogs. According to Maciej Szczepański, Leto, a labrador, accepted the prosthesis created for him and started moving in it like a healthy dog within 15 minutes after it was fitted.

"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 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," says Natalia Jusiak, Head of Marketing at Zortrax S.A.

Maciej Szczepański is currently in the process of setting up a start-up that he hopes will be able to help many animals in need, not only without limbs, but also those suffering from other orthopedic problems.