Students 3D Print New Feet for Urban Chicken


Debbie Harry (not to be confused with the lead singer of Blondie, who will be in Grand Rapids next weekend at Frederik Meijer Gardens) got new feet after a bout of frostbite left her footless.

The urban chicken lives in the greater Grand Rapids area with her family, the Diepstra’s. Rachel Diepstra, who names all of her chickens after female rock stars, said Debbie Harry had been experiencing some bullying by the other chickens and on a particularly cold night this winter she left the heated chicken coop to roost alone in the garage.

When Diepstra discovered her she was “nearly frozen solid.” The family didn’t think she’d survive. “I brought her inside and wrapped her in the towel and put her on the vent,” Diepstra said.

While Debbie Harry did thaw out and was revived, she lost her feet to frostbite. “Her feet fell off,” Diepstra said.

Because her son had a close bond with the chicken, Diepstra said she decided to see if there was a way to give Debbie a better quality of life. “She’s my son’s favorite and we thought if we can give her a good quality of life . . . he hated the idea of Debbie not being around.”

Diepstra turned to social media, asking if anyone had a 3D printer and could help make feet for Debbie.

It turned out a friend from high school’s husband, Andrew Abissi, is an engineering and robotics teacher at West Michigan Aviation Academy. Abissi jumped at the chance to bring his students a real-world challenge.

“I proposed the problem to my students and students from other classes- bioengineering and CAD – and asked them to look for as many possible solutions as we can to solve it,” Abissi said.

The students worked on the project as an extracurricular assignment. Abissi said initially there were about a dozen students involved, but as the prototypes were designed the group was slimmed down to three persistent students: James Brouckman, Peyton Ward, and Ben McCallum.

The students developed 30 different designs in their attempt to help Debbie.

“We started out trying to make feet that looked like chicken feet, but she couldn’t stand in those,” Abissi explained. “So then we tried to figure out what we could do better. One of the big problems with making them like chicken feet was they weren’t stable.”

Abissi said the students eventually hit on the right design, which combined the right angle, stability and hinge that allowed Debbie to walk comfortably.

Though Debbie has learned to get around on just her stumps, Diepstra said with her new feet, Debbie is able to roost and will be able to get around easier next winter.

Abissi said 3D printing opens the doors for solutions that couldn’t have been created previously. “It’s made prototyping incredibly easy. The fact that we could keep making new products, you couldn’t do that with injection molding.”

He added, “We have 15 printers so each student can keep working. It takes 30 minutes to print one. It makes the first steps a lot easier in the manufacturing process.”

Abissi said his students benefitted tremendously from the project, particularly learning patience and perseverance.

Diepstra agreed, “It was a fun project, a lesson in empathy and perseverance.”

*Photos courtesy of Rachel Diepstra

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