Injured hornbill eats again using new beak made with a 3D printer

Injured hornbill found in Thailand with part of its beak snapped off can eat again after vets fit a replacement using a 3D printer

  • Poor ‘Coco’ was found with her wing broken and lower bill missing in Thailand
  • Local authorities believe that she may have been attacked or shot by hunters
  • To help Coco eat again, vets fashioned a beak prosthetic from 3D-printed plastic
  • Unfortunately, her wing injury will likely mean she has to stay kept in captivity 

An injured hornbill that was found in Thailand with part of its beak snapped off can now eat again after vets fitted it with a replacement made using a 3D printer.

The adult bird — dubbed ‘Coco’ — was found sprawled on the ground with a broken wing and its lower bill missing in Kanchanaburi, western Thailand, on April 18.

Wildlife officers are unsure how Coco was injured, but believe that she may have been shot or attacked by hunters or poachers and then left for dead in the forest.

Although veterinarians were able to give urgent care and stabilise the bird, they were sadly unable to find its missing bill in order to reattach it.

Realising it would be impossible for Coco to eat without her signature long bill, they scanned her body and used 3D printing technology to create plastic replacements.

These prosthetics — the first of which broke — were attached to what remained of the bird’s lower bill with a super-strength synthetic steel glue.

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An injured hornbill that was found in Thailand with part of its beak snapped off can now eat again after vets fitted it with a replacement, pictured, made using a 3D printer

The adult bird — dubbed ‘Coco’ — was found sprawled on the ground with a broken wing and its lower bill missing, as pictured, in Kanchanaburi, western Thailand, on April 18

Footage taken at the rehabilitation centre on April 26 shows Coco now happily tucking into pieces of fruit and seeds using her new beak.

‘We used the 3D printing technology to make the pseudo-bill for the bird but unfortunately it broke very quickly, so we continued our attempts to help it,’ said Kanokwan Taruyanont, one of the vets who treated Coco.

The team said that the first prototype of the ‘pseudo-bill’ broke after only half an hour of use — but they made a second one, which they fitted in its place. 

They used a high tensile steel glue, which is the grey solution seen around Coco’s beak in the video.

Wildlife workers are now continuing to monitor Coco’s progress, as her new beak could come unstuck again because of how strongly she pecks her food.

The team are also looking at printing another bill using an alloy of different materials to ensure that Coco has the best artificial beak available.

Unfortunately, the injury to Coco’s wing will be more difficult to address, meaning that Coco may end up needing to remain in captivity, Kasetsart University’s head wildlife vet, Supaphen Sripibun, said.

‘We believe the bird’s wing has suffered permanent damaged in the nerves or muscles. There was no bone fracture found but the bird can’t fly,’ he added.

 Realising it would be impossible for Coco to eat without her signature long bill, they scanned her body and used 3D printing technology, pictured, to create plastic replacements

These prosthetics — the first of which broke — were attached to what remained of the bird’s lower bill with a super-strength synthetic steel glue 

According to provincial National Park chief officer Suchai Horadee, it is possible that poor Coco may have been shot.

‘Normally, the hunters will take for the whole bird and not just its bill,’ he said.

‘But since we have not found its bill yet, we are not sure who shot it or if it was an accident.’

‘It may have been locals who had entered the park looking for wild plants. We are already investigating what happened with the bird and its bill.’

Wildlife officers are unsure how Coco was injured, but believe that she may have been shot or attacked by hunters or poachers and then left for dead in the forest. Pictured, Coco’s veterinary team working to treat her beak injury

Footage taken at the rehabilitation centre on April 26 shows Coco now happily tucking into pieces of fruit and seeds using her new beak, pictured

3D PRINTING TECHNOLOGY MAKES OBJECTS BY DEPOSITING MATERIALS ONE LAYER AT A TIME

First invented in the 1980s by Chuck Hull, an engineer and physicist, 3D printing technology – also called additive manufacturing – is the process of making an object by depositing material, one layer at a time.

Similarly to how an inkjet printer adds individual dots of ink to form an image, a 3D printer adds material where it is needed, based on a digital file.

Many conventional manufacturing processes involved cutting away excess materials to make a part, and this can lead to wastage of up to 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms) for every one pound of useful material, according to the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

By contrast, with some 3D printing processes about 98 per cent of the raw material is used in the finished part, and the method can be used to make small components using plastics and metal powders, with some experimenting with chocolate and other food, as well as biomaterials similar to human cells.

3D printers have been used to manufacture everything from prosthetic limbs to robots, and the process follows these basic steps:

· Creating a 3D blueprint using computer-aided design (CAD) software

· Preparing the printer, including refilling the raw materials such as plastics, metal powders and binding solutions.

· Initiating the printing process via the machine, which builds the object.

· 3D printing processes can vary, but material extrusion is the most common, and it works like a glue gun: the printing material is heated until it liquefies and is extruded through the print nozzle

· Using information from the digital file, the design is split into two-dimensional cross-sections so the printers knows where to put the material

· The nozzle deposits the polymer in thin layers, often 0.1 millimetre (0.004 inches) thick.

· The polymer rapidly solidifies, bonding to the layer below before the build platform lowers and the print head adds another layer (depending on the object, the entire process can take anywhere from minutes to days.)

· After the printing is finished, every object requires some post-processing, ranging from unsticking the object from the build platform to removing support, to removing excess powders. 

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