Students design 3-D printed feet for chicken

Kent County

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Rachael Diepstra named her chicken after a rocker.

“Debbie Harry. She’s named after Blondie,” she told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday.  

Debbie Harry’s name isn’t the only thing that sets her apart from other chickens. She also has no feet. She lost them to frostbite last winter; Diepstra found her frozen to the floor.

After reading about a duck and a rooster who were able to be fitted with prosthetic feet, Diepstra posted on Facebook looking for someone with a 3-D printer.

That’s how the students at the West Michigan Aviation Academy in metro Grand Rapids got involved. It turned out to be quite the undertaking.

“You can’t go on a website and go, ‘Hey, let’s print this off.’ Some of that stuff you think of as a school project or an easy A. You can’t do that,” 11th-grader James Brouckman said.

So he and his classmates started with the basics.

“We went in and took a couple preliminary measurements with calipers and then we were like, we’re going to 3-D print it with the things we have here at the school,” Brouckman explained.

“What we do is design 3-D models on (design software) SOLIDWORKS and email them to this computer here,” recent graduate Peyton Ward, who also worked on the project, showed 24 Hour News 8.

Engineering teacher Andrew Abissi said creating a set of prosthetic legs for Debbie taught his students about the design process and biomedical engineering — as well as giving them a big lesson in trial and error.

“This project has been a semester long and a lot of error going into it, so the fact that they were able to continue to work hard has been a tremendous experience and learning opportunity,” Abissi said.

The students’ first design was essentially large chicken feet. But those didn’t work so well, so they moved on to a sled-like design. The model Debbie uses now is among about 30 the students have tried and it has produced the best results so far. They’re still working on improvements.

“I think we’ll use (the prosthetics) mostly for winter when it’s cold and to help her roost at night. They like to be up off the ground at night,” Diepstra said.

With or without the fake feet, Debbie can still cross the road — or go wherever else she wants to go.

“Really, she runs around the yard just like this. Like no problem, she can full-out sprint,” Diepstra said.

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