A titanium beak has been manufactured using 3D metal printing for the first time, and has been implanted onto a blue macaw in Brazil, allowing the bird to once again eat solid foods.
The blue macaw, or hyacinth macaw, is a highly-endangered species of parrot native to central and eastern South America. The need for a new beak was the result of the macaw’s mistreatment during illegal captivity. Poor housing conditions caused severe malformation of the bird's beak, which resulted in it not being able to feed itself properly after being freed by Brazilian police. A team of veterinarians, together with 3D printing experts from the Renato Archer Technology and Information Center (CTI) in Campinas, Brazil, developed an implant solution for the bird.
The team consists of three specialists: veterinarian Roberto Fecchio; 3D designer and facial-reconstruction specialist Cicero Moraes and veterinary dentist Paul Miamoto. Together they specialise in using 3D printing technology to save the lives of wild animals, having previously 3D printed a replacement shell for a turtle and a new beak for an injured toucan. Until now, the implants have been manufactured using plastic, however this material is not durable enough for the beak of a macaw. Macaws use their beaks to open seeds and break other hard shells, meaning that their beaks need to be extremely long-lasting and strong. Titanium was found to be the perfect solution, as it is hard, biocompatible, lightweight and corrosion-resistant.
The successful operation took place on 18 February 2016. The team began by taking a series of photographs of the malformed beak, allowing a digital 3D model to be produced for the prosthetic. The beak was then laser melted at the Renato Archer Technology and Information Center (CTI). The beak was created using an Mlab cusing R from Concept Laser, with which especially delicate parts with high surface quality can be manufactured. The 3D-printed prosthetic was secured in place with bone cement and orthopedic screws. The operation then took place at the Animal Care Centre in Sao Paulo.
Concept Laser's Mlab cusing R technology