Penguin's life saved by a 3D-printed beak

An African penguin at Warsaw Zoo, Poland, who damaged his lower beak will be given a new, prosthetic beak thanks to 3D printing.

An African penguin at Warsaw Zoo, Poland, who damaged his lower beak will be given a new, prosthetic beak thanks to 3D printing.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Keepers don't know exactly how, but four weeks ago one of Warsaw Zoo's African penguins managed to break his beak, damaging the bottom part to the point that the bird could no longer eat or preen, putting his life in danger. But — as in the case of Beauty the bald eagle — there was hope to be found in technology; more specifically, 3D printing.

To restore his life to normal, a team of 3D printing specialists and veterinarians are collaborating to build a new beak. First, the team made comprehensive scans of the beak of a dead penguin from 12 different angles in order to figure out the shape and dimensions of the beak. Then, 3D printing specialist Omni3D built a model of the beak that would fit the wounded bird.

The beak itself goes to print this week on by MTT Polska, using a high-tech eco-plastic, and will be fitted to the bird in a complex operation. Veterinarians will put the bird under general anaesthetic, then grind down his beak so that the prosthetic can be placed over it. MTT Polska is also making beaks in several different materials — plastic and silicone — in case the prosthetic falls off or proves unsuitable.

In the meantime, the penguin has been fed by hand, but if the operation succeeds, the little guy will soon be devouring his herring along with his fellows with no indication that anything was ever amiss — except, perhaps, a brightly coloured beak as a memento.

 

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