Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Research: 3D Printed Horseshoe and Hoof Scanning Trials Launched by Vet School Farriers at Utrecht University in The Netherlands

3D printed horseshoe hoof scan research vet school

A team of vet school researchers and farriers at Utrecht University (NL) is hard at work fine-tuning how to scan the morphology of a hoof and use a 3D printer to create a shoe with specific size, shape and material characteristics to fit the particular and individual requirements of lame or conformationally-challenged horses.

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We can use 3D printers to make just about anything--even horseshoes. Five years ago here on The Hoof Blog, we documented a prototype set of 3D printed titanium shoes for a foundered pony in Australia and we have profiled the use of 3D printing for commercial prototypes by companies like Polyflex Horseshoes in the USA and Formahoof in Dubai. “Horses First”, a farrier group in Finland, is 3D printing pads and cuff shoes for sale on the Internet.

In spite of an all-time pinnacle of near-perfection in both ready made shoes and high tech materials to design and fabricate custom equine hoof orthotics for every imaginable injury or deformity, it is a foregone conclusion that 3D printing will play a role in the production of horseshoes in the future.

How do we make sure that the new technology heads in a direction that helps horses and makes better horseshoes, not just more horseshoes?

You can go online right now and download the code to 3D-print horseshoes, such as corrective shoes for foal limb deformities, but the output is pre-set to specific sizes and shapes.

3D hoof scanner Utrecht University
The process begins after the horse has been trimmed and prepared for shoeing. The foot is scanned with a handheld unit that feeds data points to a laptop hard drive. The data is then utilized by a Computer Assisted Drawing (CAD) software application loaded in the laptop.

The data driving 3D printing of horseshoes has, until this point, been largely two-dimensional, based on using Computer Assisted Drawing (CAD) software. The exception is some impressive strides made in the design and fabrication of prostheses for amputee horses, but that process is predicated by the requirement of optimum functionality in supporting the horse's weight and allowing movement, rather than trying to replicate a foot that no longer exists, or attach a shoe to it.

On the other end of things, we know we can also 3D print horse feet, using data from dead or living horse limbs. Professor Chris Pollitt in Australia can (and does) even "print" an entire distal limb model from CT scan data, using sophisticated modeling software. Commercial online 3D CAD websites offer printing plots for a coffin bone--but not a hoof--for downloading and printing.

Utrecht University vet school hoof
Positioning of the foot is a critical stage early in the process. The software creates a detailed image of the hoof capsule.
But the clinical applications for all this “available” technology is NQTY--Not Quite There Yet. Thesis after thesis from bioengineering scholars outlines the need and possible processes for scanning horse hooves in three dimensions so a shoe can be made to fit exactly. But the hoof-matching-shoe paradigm hasn’t been an integrated process.

In 2017, a research group in Poland published an Open Access, peer-reviewed article on a 3-D scanning method for comparison of the morphology of left and right limb coffin bones retrieved from the front feet of horses. They made no mention of the feasibility of their turntable-based system for scanning the feet of a living horse, even with a handheld scanner.

Utrecht University CAD software horse foot
Using the data points collected by the scanner, the CAD program renders an image of the hoof on the screen. It can be rotated to measure points, compute distances or gaps in distances, and finally to "draw" in the shoe that the farrier designs to the purposes of his case. 

The closest thing to a clinical application was a thesis by Magdelana Rosendahl at Skovde University in Sweden in 2013. Her beautifully illustrated document is written in Swedish except for a brief English abstract, in which she predicts that the value of 3D scanning in the farriery profession will be its potential to professionalize a traditional trade or craft.

Rosendahl predicted the value in using 3D scanning would be to document cases over time, rather than as a clinical procedure for helping lame horses. Rosendahl believed that individual farriers would use 3D printing to provide evidence of the effects of their work and forecast a prognosis for ideal hoof balance and horse health in their clients' horses.

3D equine foot scanned Utrecht University
The software allows the foot to be viewed from multiple perspectives. In this image, you can see that a cuff-type shoe has been drawn in; the support margins and shoe thickness can be adjusted and, eventually in the research project's evolution, a range of materials will be available for selection. A simple cuff shoe is the base model in this early stage.

This year, we may have both the foot scan and the shoe design in one place for the same (living) horse, if trials in the forge of the Utrecht University vet school in The Netherlands produce the results expected.

In the latest example of the global trend for farriers to be directly involved in and even initiate equine research, Utrecht’s vet school resident farriers Jan de Zwaan and Gerben Bronkhorst are issuing an international invitation for fellow professionals to support their effort to create an integrated system that both scans the foot and designs a shoe to fit and support it as required by lameness, injury or conformation.
horseshoe designed for 3D printer at Utrecht University
With the foot layer sent to the background, the shoe can be fine tuned on the screen and then sent to the printer. The farrier can see the shoe from any perspective.

The team needs to raise 8,000 Euros ($8,993 USD) to complete the first stage of this research, which is outside the purview of any commercial interests for the end product.

The Hoof Blog was fortunate to do a question and answer session with farriers Jan de Zwaan and Gerben Bronkhorst of Utrecht University and project manager Dr. Inga Wolframm; their team also includes Professors Rene van Weeren and Harold Brommer.

Utrecht University vet school 3D printed horseshoe and scanned horse foot
For the purposes of demonstration, the team printed out both the foot and a sample shoe. 

Hoof Blog: Do you already have the software, scanner and 3D printer or is the purchase of the equipment part of the reason for the fundraising? I assume the software is a standard CAD-type application?

scanner used to create 3D printed horseshoe
A handheld
UU: At this point, we’re working together with a non-profit organization, associated with the university. They’re covering the printing at cost price. The scanning and designing of the shoe on the computer is done by a small company, and we’re hoping that they’ll be prepared to do this at cost price. They use an ARTEC hand-held 3D white light scanner. At the moment, the software is a standard CAD application, but we’d obviously like to work towards something custom made in the future.

With regards to the funds we want to raise, we’re hoping to raise enough to cover the material costs for the printing and testing of a couple of additional prototypes of differently shaped shoes, such as a straight bar shoe, heart bar shoe, etc., to test the ‘proof of principle’ and subsequently to print and test six pairs of shoes, to be used initially on our own horses. (These are horses owned by the faculty, and are ridden and trained by our veterinary students.)

farrier holds 3D printed horseshoe and scanned hoof
The Utrecht University research includes both the scanning 
technology to accurately create a wireframe-type model of the 
hoof and the printing process to build a unique horseshoe for
that hoof. Here you see a "printout" of a clinic horse's foot and
a sample cuff shoe designed and printed to fit it precisely. 
Future shoes will be more complex in detail, when needed.
HB: My readers will think that the cuff shoe shown in the prototype images is very similar to commercial products available. In fact, there seems to be an infinite choice of commercial products, and with thermoplastic crystals or adhesive, it seems like a customized shoe could be done without the need for 3D technology. Therefore, I think what you are proposing is investigating the technology for future applications, not proposing using it routinely for everyday cases?

Gerben Bronkhorst, farrier at Utrecht University in The Netherlands
Gerben Bronkhorst, one of two
farriers at Utrecht University
vet school.
UU: Yes, you’re quite right that the prototype might look like a commercially available cuff shoe, but the additional value is that it can be made to fit a horse’s foot exactly, accounting for any deviations in shape or angle of the hoof. What’s more, the 3D printed shoe would allow us to integrate any additional (orthopaedic) features, such as a heel wedge, a wide branch extension, and that, again, with absolute precision. You’re absolutely right in saying that this project is all about future applications, especially in situations where, at the moment, there are no alternatives, such as in foals with an abnormal stance, or in donkeys, (since) their hooves deviate substantially from those of horses.

At this point, we want to focus on gathering as much data as possible in order to come up with a 3D printed shoe that really improves equine/equid welfare. Once we’ve done that, we’ll think about the next step. Most importantly, though: As a university, we feel that it’s our responsibility to develop new, innovative ideas for the benefit of society (or parts of society).

lameness equine foot
The challenging weak foot of the barefoot horse 
described in the video.
HB: Do you think that the process of 3D shoemaking requires a cuff? Doesn't the cuff make fitting more difficult, or at least less accurate?

UU: Jan and Gerben think that a cuff is not only necessary but beneficial. That’s because the cuff can be printed to take on the exact shape of the hoof wall, thus allowing us to fit the shoe (and the cuff) to the millimeter. We think that this will also ensure that the glue will adhere for longer (as the more snug the cuff, the less likely it’ll be to let go of the hoof). The idea is to also develop a shoe that allows for a farrier to either use glue or nails, or both.

HB: Readers might think you are suggesting making a mold of the foot from scanning. I believe the foot scans will live in the software, and the mold you show in the video is to illustrate that the shoe fits the foot for the video. The shoe is the product, not a mold of the foot. Is that correct?

UU: Yes, that’s precisely what it is. The mold you see in the video was indeed made to help us in the development of the prototype. In the project we’ve got in mind now though, we’ll only have to scan the foot, save it to the software program, and print from there.

HB: What is the approximate time required from scanning the foot to having a shoe in hand, ready to be glued on? (Once a user develops proficiency)

UU: At this point, it’ll take approximately 12 hours. The scanning only takes a couple of minutes, the design process of the shoe in the software (so the adding of the various features, depending on the biomechanical/orthopedic requirements) takes around an hour, but might become easier with more proficiency. The printing itself takes nine hours, and that’s the “delay”, if you can call it that. Obviously, the development doesn’t stand still here either, so faster printers will result in faster shoes.

Utrecht University's Jan de Zwaan, farrier, with 3D printed horseshoe
Utrecht University vet school farrier Jan de Zwaan wants the end product printed horseshoe to have options be either nailed or glued, according to the needs of the horse being treated in the clinic. 

Jan de Zwaan also commented that the output of a shoe predetermined to be glued rather than nailed to the foot was not a prerequisite; they may nail or glue 3D-printed shoes on a case by case basis.

Once the computer-designed shoe is applied to the horse’s foot, its effect on the horse will be measured objectively. Jan and Gerben will use the university’s state-of-the-art movement analysis systems to monitor the horses' stance and movement patterns prior to and following the shoeing.

• • • • • 

If you would like to be part of this project, the Utrecht team would love to receive your donation.

please donate to this project
Click here to access the project page.
The university has set up an easy-to-use direct donation web page; it will accept credit card or PayPal payments in the amount of your choice.

Alternately, the university offers a crowdsourcing form of fundraising, which allows donors to start a team of sub-donors, or an individual donor can add his or her donation to a pre-existing group’s fundraising campaign.

The project has raised 11% of its goal, at the time this article was written.

Click here to visit the fundraising page to see the project's progress and add your donation, of any amount. US donors may need to use the PayPal link, which will work with any credit card. All donors who supply contact information will be kept informed of progress as the project continues.

If you have questions about funding for this project, please email Dr. Inga Wolframm, Head of Fundraising for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University:

3D Horseshoes research project information page on the Utrecht University website

3D Horseshoes research project donation page on the Utrecht University website

3-D Printing in the Forge and Clinic: Hoof Anatomy models, Veterinary Applications, and Horseshoes (Hoof Blog archives)

Short informal talk by MIT sports technology grad Dr. Mike Vasquez on his experience applying 3D printing in sports

Laminitic Pony in Australia First Horse in History to Wear 3D Printed Titanium Horseshoes (Hoof Blog archives)

Chris Pollitt's Laminitis Images Have a New Look: MIMICS Software Goes 3-D  (Hoof Blog archives)

Articles referenced:
Paśko, S., Dzierzęcka, M., Purzyc, H., Charuta, A., Barszcz, K., Bartyzel, B. J., & Komosa, M. (2017). The Osteometry of Equine Third Phalanx by the Use of Three-Dimensional Scanning: New Measurement Possibilities  Scanning, 2017.

Rosendahl, Magdelena. (2013). Underlätta bearbetning av hästskor.  (Facilitate the machining of horseshoes.) (Hoof Scanner) Thesis, Skovde University, Sweden.

Additional articles:

McMenamin, P. G., Quayle, M. R., McHenry, C. R., & Adams, J. W. (2014). The production of anatomical teaching resources using three‐dimensional (3D) printing technology. Anatomical sciences education, 7(6), 479-486.

Preece, D., Williams, S. B., Lam, R., & Weller, R. (2013). “Let's get physical”: advantages of a physical model over 3D computer models and textbooks in learning imaging anatomy. Anatomical sciences education, 6(4), 216-224.

Thomas, D. B., Hiscox, J. D., Dixon, B. J., & Potgieter, J. (2016). 3D scanning and printing skeletal tissues for anatomy education. Journal of anatomy, 229(3), 473-481.

• • • • • 

Thank you to everyone at Utrecht who assisted with this article and especially to Dr. Wolframm for her excellent translations and interface during the development of this article. She is the author of the well-respected reference book, The Science of Equestrian Sports (Routledge 2014).

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