When Buttercup was hatched in a high school biology lab with a backwards left foot, the duckling had a hard time walking without getting cuts and constant foot infections. Mike Garey at the Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Arlington, Tenn., knew Buttercup’s foot needed to be removed, but he wanted to do better than a peg-leg. He thought that a 3D-printed foot could build up Buttercup and not let him down.
Garey took several photos of the healthy left leg on Buttercup’s sister, Minnie, and combined them in AutoDesk to create a 3D model. Garey sent this file to NovaCopy, a 3D printer reseller in Tennessee and Texas, which agreed to use its technology to create model duck feet.
NovaCopy couldn’t simply print the foot because the ABS plastics used in 3D printing aren’t flexible enough for this purpose. Instead, a 3D printed model will be used to create a permanent foot from silicone, similar to the prosthetic tail created for Winter the dolphin.
According to a Facebook page following Buttercup’s story, NovaCopy has printed the second design of the foot, so this lucky duck may get his new foot very soon.
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3D printing technology has been around for decades for manufacturing but only recently gained mainstream attention. Advancements have significantly reduced the cost of 3D printing, making it more available to the general public. Designers in Texas made headlines when they used 3D printing to create a fully functional handgun.
Many hope that 3D printing will soon help create prosthetic limbs for humans. For now, 3D printing will help Buttercup get outside to swim and play with all his other duck friends.