CDME builds custom brooder box for Columbus Zoo penguin chick

Posted: June 27, 2022
Penguin inside box
Cecilia inside the brooder box. Image courtesy of Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium 

When the Columbus Zoo urgently needed a custom brooder box for Humboldt penguin chick, Cecilia, they knew who could quickly accommodate their need. The Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) at The Ohio State University has a reputation for providing quality work to industry partners. Thanks to an existing relationship between the Animal Care team at the Columbus Zoo and employees at CDME, the project began quickly to meet the urgent need.

A brooder box is used to keep young birds warm and maintain consistent temperature when they cannot control their body temperatures or be around other birds. Cecilia was being hand-raised due to the ongoing avian influenza outbreak. Because of the outbreak, the Zoo needed the box as quickly as possible to keep Cecilia healthy and protected. Penguin handlers shared a few drawings with CDME to show their vision and specifications for the box.

CDME was able to use the drawings to take the box from concept to prototype in just over a week. Following the CDME project model, a team of research specialists and students, Tiffany Ofori and Iyana Johnson, worked on the box. CDME includes students in every project to give them real, hands-on experience. The students involved with the brooder box worked on every aspect, from design to ordering of materials to the assembly of the box.

2 people working on table to build box
CDME team members assembling the brooder box

The brooder box was made with T-Slotted framing because of its ability to be obtained and cut quickly, which was critical due to the urgent need. The walls of the box were made of plexiglass, and the handles were 3D printed to match the specifications. The handles were designed using Solidworks and was sent to a program, PreForm, to be sliced and prepared for printing on a Formlabs Form3 SLA 3D printer, where it was produced utilizing grey resin and post processed to remove all the excess resin. The bottom of the box can slide out, and the top and front open for easy access and cleaning.

CDME completed the project and delivered the box to the Columbus Zoo eight days after fielding the request. Pete Schupska, research specialist at CDME, provided project direction and was an integral part of the box production and quick delivery.

Research Specialist Sam Storts led the project and said it was different than usual CDME work, but still felt very impactful.

“We do a lot of different projects for different industries at CDME,” said Storts, “It was a great feeling to make an impact in a new industry for a penguin just down the street from us.”

Sadly, Cecilia passed away on May 12, 2022 after showing signs consistent with central nervous system damage, likely secondary to hypoxia. The Zoo said that the avian influenza was not the cause of her decline. The Zoo’s Shores & Aquarium team at the Columbus Zoo dedicated the brooder box in honor of Cecilia and is planning to continue to use it for future flamingo chicks or other animals that may need it. The box design lends itself to be useful for a variety of different species.

Penguin inside box
Image courtesy of Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium 

“The CDME students are incredible resources for us with their expertise and creativity,” said Becky Ellsworth, curator of the Columbus Zoo’s Shores & Aquarium region. “Animals have a variety of needs, and we are extremely fortunate to have the support of these students and specialists with diverse skill sets and backgrounds all working together to help us give animals in need a fighting chance at survival. Cecilia helped inspire this project, and we will continue to honor her by using the brooder box to help make a difference for other wonderful animals, too.”

Despite the sad turn of events, a new relationship has been formed between the Columbus Zoo and CDME. The two organizations have plans to continue to collaborate on projects to help the Zoo provide the animals with top quality care.

Categories: StudentsResearch