Nov.25, 2012

Johnathan Eisen is a Professor at the University of California, Davis. The main overarching focus on the Eisen's lab is on the "phylogenomics of novelty" in microbes and their major research themes include the genomic basis for the origin and evolution of new functions and the ecology and evolution of microbial communities.

Recently for one of their research the lab had to pay more than $300 for six gel combs from a supplier. They cost $51 each (see the picture below "12 tooth double-sided comb").

Russel Neches, a graduate student in the lab, found it a ridiculous price for a lousy little scrap of plastic.

$300 for a couple of gel combs is cartel pricing, not market pricing. Fortunately, we happen to have a very nice 3D printer. It is very good at making little scraps of plastic. So, I busted out the calipers and tossed together some models of gel combs in OpenSCAD. A few minutes of printing later, and the $51 gel combs are heading back to the store.

Neches ordered the plastic filament from ProtoParadigm at $42 for a kilogram, meaning each of these gel combs cost about 21 cents to print. That's 1/243rd the price. The 3D printer cost €1,194.00 ($1524.62) and Neches said the saving on just these gel combs has recuperated 18% of the cost of the printer.

Using a printer Neches was able to print $150 worth of gel combs at a cost less than a cup of coffee.

It's also important that I was able to make some minor improvements to the design. The printed combs fit into the gel mold a bit better than the "official" ones. I also made separate combs for the 1.0mm and 1.5mm versions, and the labels are easier to read. If I wanted, tiny tweaks to my SCAD file would let me make all sorts of fun combinations of thicknesses and widths that aren't available from the manufacturer. So, these gel combs are not only 1/243rd the price, but they are also better. said Neches.

What we like the most in this story is 3D printing made the lab work much easier and saved the lab a pile of money. Because of its higher efficiency than traditional manufacturing it has in many ways improved quality of your work and helped get your project on the fast track.




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Rob Jansen wrote at 12/9/2015 6:22:00 AM:

It all depends what you are looking for ... 3D printing tends to be off by 0.1mm easily if you are not careful on how you print. And what about the impact of the plastic on the gel? What plastic are you using and how sure are you it is not polluted with funny chemicals that impact your tests ??? All home made, all in your own time. Isn't a researchers time very expensive - how much time do you need to spend on printing those? If you need these combs to be certified and/or calibrated it will cost you much more that the USD 51 you pay for factory combs. I also doubt the "higher efficiency than traditional manufacturing" claim. What is more efficient that extruding plastic in a mold if you need 1000+ of exactly the same items. I am faced with this type of challenges on a daily base: making the stuff we need our selves looks cheaper than buying from expensive companies. But the time I spend doing this is stolen away from my project's time and if something goes wrong I can start all over. Still, I think it is a good thing to challenge the obvious since this is how research and our "maker world" progresses. But, as with the research itself, always validate the result you have. Never take anything for granted.

Jeff wrote at 11/18/2014 6:27:37 AM:

yeah but are any of the combs any good? Can you make a publication quality gel with them? DIYbio all the way.... but you still need an EQUIVALENT substitute!

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