One of the most beneficial and life-enhancing applications of 3D printing is the use of it for biomechanical living aids, specifically 3D printed wheelchairs. These mobility aids have been made not just for humans but also for animals, demonstrating that 3D printing can be a very positive thing, and enhance the quality of life, not only for humans but for other creatures too.
An inspiring story illustrating this comes from a town called Blumenau, in Southern Brazil and features an extraordinary man called Gilmar Jose Purin and an equally extraordinary dog called Branco. Purin is a software designer and architect who works from home for a Canadian company called Omniware. He says that he bought a 3D printer some time back and has been using it to create certain items for the home and it has now become a hobby for him to create various projects from scratch.
Purin’s girlfriend Kelli is a volunteer for a newly-launched animal charity in Blumenau, which cares for stray, injured and distressed street animals. One day, a dog was brought to the charity headquarters who had been hit by a car. The poor thing had broken his back and lost an eye. It seemed as if the incident had happened some time before, as he was quite healthy but his backbone had calcified and his back legs had atrophied. Gilmar Jose Purin went to see the dog (named Branco), and was impressed with how much life and passion he exuded - he was dragging himself around, unable to understand why his back legs would not work, but clearly did not want to let it stop him. Purin found this very touching and wanted to help him.
He began looking on the Internet for customised wheelchairs for dogs, but was put off by the expense. He considered building his own wheelchair using PVC pipes and other materials, but the designs he saw did not look very strong and not easy to customise for different size dogs. Finally he came by the idea of 3D printing a wheelchair.
He decided to make the design scalable, so that it could be used for dogs of different sizes. He printed the first version, and fitted it to Branco for him to try it. It was a success, as Branco began running along the corridor with it straightaway. It did, however, need a few adjustments, so Jose took it away to work on it, and perfected a newer version to be tried.
Unfortunately this story does not have an altogether happy or successful ending. Purin had to go away for a week, and his girlfriend told him that Branco had sadly died suddenly while he was away, so he never got to try the new, improved version of the wheelchair, which Purin was very upset about.
The cause of death was not known. However, Purin has not let himself become disheartened by this - he sees it as Branco leaving a bit of a legacy to other disabled dogs. He has uploaded the design files and assembly instructions on the digital design website Thingiverse for other users to download for free, so that the concept can be used to help many other injured animals. In total, it takes around 15 hours to print the necessary parts on a typical FDM 3D printer. Purin comments that Branco died and left a gift for his fellow injured animals, which is an inspiring thought.
Picture courtesy of www.3Dprintinghome.net