Bagpipes lost one of his flippers after it became entwined in some carelessly discarded fishing line. The brave little guy ended up living the remainder of his life at the Christchurch International Antarctic Centre under the careful watch of the penguin keepers. At the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury we tried making him a new flipper by 3D scanning his other, mirroring the virtual model, creating the attachment features using CAD and then 3D printing the parts. This first prototype fitted well but as he could not articulate it like he other flipper it acted like a water break and he swam in circles.
After many more prototypes we ended up with a clip on shoe with interior padding, steel claws and a snap lock to make it easy to fit – Bagpipes had a very sharp beak! I say had because poor Bagpipes recently passed away. But under the special care he had a comparatively very long life. Back to his flipper, after finally getting a design that fitted and did all we thought he needed, he became shy with it on and hid away from the girls in his cave.
Lesson: As engineers we can design something that we think fits the customer’s needs but at the end of the day it is the customer who decides if it is fit for purpose.
The story that combined a cute little blue penguin and 3d printing hit the headlines and to our amazement went viral, receiving millions of views. Below are a couple of links to news-feeds that tell the story much better than I can…