Maciej Szczepański, a fifth-year student of veterinary medicine at Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences, creates 3D printed prostheses for animals to help them walk and run again. His prostheses are tailored to suit the animal he treats. With this, he aims to proliferate the use of 3D printing for animal treatment in Poland, his home country. So far, he has helped Sonia and Leto – the dogs who lost their limbs due to traffic accidents.
Many industries today use 3D printing because of its flexibility, low production costs, and rapid prototyping capabilities. It has recently been ranked as one of the fastest growing markets in the world. Medicine is one of the industries that is increasingly utilizing additive manufacturing technologies. Among the opportunities provided by 3D printing in this industry are the creation of pre-operative models and dedicated medical devices. Maciej Szczepaski, a final-year veterinary medicine student, decided to use 3D printing to help injured animals.
The Story – Developing 3D Printed Prostheses
During his studies, Szczepaski developed an interest in the field of animal orthopedics. In addition to participating in orthopedic surgeries, he researched the available methods of assisting disabled animals in specialized literature. He noticed that, whereas in the United States, for example, the provision of prosthetics for animals is very common, the situation is not as prevalent in Poland.
“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.”– Maciej Szczepański, Veterinary medicine student at Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences
Maciej began working on 3D printed prostheses for his first pet patients, Sonia and Leto, in this manner. Sonia is a female dog who was hit by a car and had a portion of her hind paw amputated. Leto, a labrador, was hit by a train, which damaged his front paw. The first step in developing suitable prostheses was for Maciej to meet the animals and take the necessary measurements, such as the length and circumference of the missing limb, as well as an impression using alginate. The future veterinarian then scanned a cast of the dog’s stump, which had been created by pouring special ceramic plaster over the impression.
Although Maciej initially outsourced the project’s next steps, 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 on his own as soon as the print was complete.
“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.”
3D Printing – Zortrax Inventure 3D printer
Maciej Szczepaski created the 3D printed prostheses with a Zortrax Inventure 3D printer. A socket that holds the dog’s stump and an element that comes into contact with the ground are among the 3D printed components.
Maciej Szczepański used a Zortrax Inventure 3D printer to create the 3D printed prostheses. The 3D printed components include a socket which holds the dog’s stump and an element which comes in contact with the ground.
Maciej explained, “For the socket, I choose the solid infill option, whereas the “foot” has slightly above normal infill density. I leave the rest of the settings assigned in Z-SUITE by default.”
He revealed that he also uses the Hybrid Support feature, which allows him to save on support material while printing in dual extrusion mode.
3D Printing Filaments
Once the parts are 3D printed, Maciej places his 3D printed model in the Zortrax DSS Station to dissolve the support structures, and this is the only post-processing step he uses in this project. Finally, Maciej screws the three prosthesis components together and places a layer of cloth inside the 3D printed socket to increase the dog’s comfort. The object is now ready to be worn by the dog. Maciej has no doubt about the role of 3D printing in his project and as he says, “Thanks to 3D printing, I was able to create the tailored prostheses that suited the pet’s special needs.”
The prostheses almost entirely made with 3D printing are now being tested on 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.”– Natalia Jusiak, Head of Marketing at Zortrax S.A.
Maciej Szczepaski is currently in the process of establishing a Startup that he hopes will be able to assist many animals in need, not only those without limbs, but also those suffering from other orthopedic issues.
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