NASHVILLE - Buttercup the disabled duck will gain an opportunity next week not common to most waterfowl.
He is expected to get his new webbed foot prosthetic, courtesy of NovaCopy and its 3-D printing engineer, Joel Graves.
Engineers at the Nashville-based copier reseller didn't think helping a duck live a normal life would be a project they would encounter during the rise of 3-D printing. But they agreed to donate their time, expertise and technology to help Buttercup when a suburban Memphis waterfowl sanctuary approached them.
Buttercup was hatched last year in a high school biology lab with a backward left foot. His second owner, Mike Garey of Feathered Angels Waterfowl Sanctuary in Arlington, Tenn., knew Buttercup wouldn't survive in his condition.
"When he would walk outside, his leg would start bleeding," Garey said. "I knew Buttercup would be better off as a peg-leg duck than a duck with a disabled foot."
A veterinarian amputated the duck's left foot in February, and a long healing process began. As Buttercup's stump healed, Garey looked for options to give him a prosthetic foot.
Garey considered 3-D printing because the model for a mold could be built with extreme precision.
It's just one of myriad uses for 3-D printing, which is rapidly gaining recognition in a number of industries. While still expensive for consumers, more companies are either buying their own printers or hiring outside firms to use the technology to build items such as prototypes rapidly.
Garey looked at several organizations around the state with 3-D printers but chose NovaCopy because of its unique, high-resolution technology. The company is the only 3-D printer reseller in Tennessee.
Garey developed a design after taking photos of a similar duck's foot, and with 3-D design software combined them. He sent the files to Graves, who started a 13½-hour printing process.
On Tuesday, Garey received the 3-D printed prototype for the prosthetic, and on Wednesday he got the materials to make the new foot. That night, he took Buttercup to get a cast for his peg so the top of the prosthetic would fit well.
On Friday, Garey is pouring the mold, which will take 16 hours to set. He hopes to have the final prosthetic finished by Sunday afternoon.
Buttercup's foot is one of several prototypes that NovaCopy has printed this year. Melissa Ragsdale, NovaCopy's president of 3-D printing solutions, said the technology is typically thought of as a manufacturing tool.
"There are wide-ranging uses - aerospace, medical, consumer and industrial purposes are a few," she said. "It gives most businesses the ability to take products to the market faster than their competition."
For Buttercup, whom Garey described as an ambassador for other domestic ducks and geese, it will mean easier walking and swimming.
"The whole point is to educate people on how cool and intelligent these animals are," Garey said. "Buttercup's doing great."