Friday, November 15, 2013

3D Printed Horseshoe Update: No Purple Titanium Horseshoes on Hooves (Yet)

Australian national CSIRO research laboratory engineer Chad Henry has gone back to the drawing board to perfect his titanium horseshoe produced via 3-D printing. (CSIRO photo)

Do you remember the flashy purple horseshoes from the Australian laboratory that were destined to crush racetrack records? The story--along with examples of the way that 3-D printing is used in the hoofcare world--was popular on the Hoof Blog last month. 

The Hoof Blog contacted the horse's trainer to see how it was doing with the special new shoes and he kindly responded. Apparently the rest of the media in the world re-published the story without checking on the result.

But now the horse has spoken; Moloney Racing, the training stable that is quoted in the CSIRO article, reported that his horse hadn't actually been shod with the purple plates. "We were never left with any plates to put on the horses when the people came in to introduce them," the message reads.

It's been a month since the press release and no doubt longer since the horse's foot was scanned. Racing in Australia is also strictly controlled, with each state having rules about exactly what shoes can be used. "It is also unlikely that we would have used the plates due to the fact they are not (been) approved as racing plates by Racing Victoria," the message concluded.

This TED lecture is helpful to understand how 3-D printing works.

Re-reading the press release from CSIRO, the text mentions the horse, the shoes, and the process of making the shoes and implies that some time was needed after scanning the foot to print the shoes, but no mention is made of how, when and if they were affixed to a horse. Perhaps the purpose of the exercise was to create a fac simile of a horseshoe out of titanium via the 3-D process, not to create a functional horseshoe.

Undaunted, The Hoof Blog continued to contact CSIRO, and finally found out that an American engineer, Chad Henry, was working in the titanium technology lab on the horseshoe project. While no shoes were actually applied to Mr. Moloney's racehorse, Chad suffers from that fascination that so many people experience when they start learning about a horse's foot and imagining ways that their technology might be used in some new, experimental way.

So, Chad went back to the drawing board. Short of re-designing the horse's foot, he can only re-design his shoe, which he says he is hoping to do in the next few weeks. He said that his experiment, which went around the world thanks to the Internet, of scanning a horse's foot in three dimensions was useful and that he was able to create a shoe to exactly fit the scanned hoof.

Chad said that his shoe designs are created to be nailed on, not glued on. He added that he is working with some farriers and a farrier/veterinarian in Australia and that they are providing lots of stimulating ideas. He's also interested in growth dynamics of the hoof, and how they might influence design of an optimum horseshoe form.

"One of the beauties of 3D printing is how rapid it is," he commented, adding later,"We intend to get the time from scan to installation to less than three total days for a custom therapeutic shoe."

Don't worry, we'll keep checking!

To learn more:
Hoof Blog: 3-D Printing in the Forge and Clinic: Hoof Anatomy Models, Veterinary Applications, and Horseshoes

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