Writing about 3D printing technologies, we come across a lot of inspiring moments: we’ve seen how digital fabrication has enabled war-torn areas like Palmyra in Syria reclaim some cultural heritage; as well as how the technology has resulted in medical triumphs thanks to patient-specific care. One area that has particularly tugged at my heartstrings over the years has been how 3D printing can help animals regain mobility and quality of life. That’s why a project called Bionic Pets caught my eye.
Bionic Pets was founded by Derrick Campana and is driven by the mission to provide prosthetic limbs to pets in need. Campana began working in prosthetics in 2002, developing orthotic and prosthetic devices for humans. In 2004, however, when he was asked for help treating a black labrador dog, Campana was inspired to pivot his career towards caring for animals. This decision led to the founding of Animal Ortho Care, a company that has treated nearly 20,000 animals to date. As his pet-care business boomed, Campana decided to split his company into two parts: Bionic Pets, which focuses on prosthetics, and Animal Ortho Care, which provides orthotics.
Bionic Pets is the subject of new television series called Wizard of Paws, in which Campana travels across the United States treating animals with custom-designed prosthetics and orthotics. In recent years, the process of developing the animal prosthetics has come to rely more and more on 3D printing. To support the 3D printing process, Bionic Pets enlisted the help of DiveDesign, a product development studio based in Boonton, New Jersey.
The studio was founded two years ago and Bionic Pets was one of its first clients. Since then, it has worked with Campana to refine the process for developing animal prosthetics, transitioning from a labour intensive method involving shaping plaster molds, forming thermoplastics, cuttings, sanding and more, to a simplified 3D printing-based method.
“After connecting with Derrick and learning of his challenges, we knew we had the team and resources to re-imagine this process with digital tools,” said Adam Hecht, co-founder of DiveDesign. “We developed a new process, consisting of four main steps. First, we 3D scan the mold of the dog [which is provided by the client using a casting kit]. Next, we upload it to a computer and use our proprietary algorithm to generate the prosthetic from the scan. Then, we print it overnight out of TPU on a large format FDM 3D printer. And finally, we screw the leg on and ship it out.”
This approach reportedly reduces the prosthetics production time dramatically (from about 15 hours of manual work to just one). This has freed up more time for Campana to help and treat more animals. According to DiveDesign, it has already shipped over 30 3D printed prosthetics in two months for Bionic Pets, thanks to support from design algorithm expert LANDAU Design+Technology and Gcreate’s print farm.
Throughout his career, Campana has helped a wide array of animals, from dogs, to pigs and goats, to elephants. His new series Wizard of Paws showcases the process of developing animal prosthetics as well as how they can impact an animal’s quality of life. The series premiered in early April on BYUtv.