Featured image of Karl the Hornbill Receives a New 3D Printed Beak Prosthetic
Beak in Black

Karl the Hornbill Receives a New 3D Printed Beak Prosthetic

Picture of Hanna Watkin
by Hanna Watkin
Sep 6, 2017

Abyssinian ground hornbill Karl received a 3D printed prosthetic beak after staff at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo noticed he was struggling to eat.

3D printing has many applications. Within the realm of humanitarian efforts is providing animals with prosthetics so they can live more comfortable lives.

Recently, staff at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., noticed one of their birds was having difficulty eating. Thus it was decided that Karl, an Abyssinian ground hornbill, needed a replacement for his worn-down beak.

Hornbills have a unique way of eating, which involves picking up food, tossing it into their mouths, and swallowing it whole.

After 27 years and a lot of wear and tear, Karl’s lower beak wasn’t up to the task anymore. Thankfully, 3D printing came to the rescue.

Karl isn’t the only instance of animals receiving 3D printed prosthetics. All3DP has covered a range of similar stories, from dogs receiving bone implants to Animal Avengers coming to the rescue of the Victoria the Goose.

Creating a New Beak for Karl the Hornbill

Before turning to 3D printing, zoo staff looked at a range of regular prosthetics for Karl. Unfortunately, none were natural enough to enable the bird to eat properly, with all of them simply falling off after just three weeks of use.

They therefore teamed up with specialists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. There it was decided to craft Karl a new beak that would be both stronger and, hopefully, more permanent.

In order to do so, the specialists first found a skull from a hornbill that had lived in the zoo in the 1930s. Scanning the beak in 3D, they were able to create  a CAD model that fit to Karl.

The specialists then 3D printed the model using a Formlabs 3D printer and photopolymer resin. Final testing and tweaking, which took an additional five months, ensured that the design was perfect for Karl.

In an interview with Digital Trends, Gilber Myers, assistant curator at the National Zoo, had this to say:

“Karl is doing fantastic. Before adding the prosthetic, Karl had to adapt and figure out how to pick up daily food items offered by his animal caretakers… Now, Karl is not only able to consume any diet item that his caretakers provide, but he can hunt for earthworms, insects, frogs, toads, snakes, and small mammals that wander through his zoo habitat.”

Want to read more heart-warming stories about 3D printing benefiting animals? Check out All3DP’s animals tag, here.

Source: Smithsonian Insider

License: The text of "Karl the Hornbill Receives a New 3D Printed Beak Prosthetic" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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