Sep 18, 2014

The cost of furnishing a research lab can be pretty high. But what if scientists could simply 3D print their own instruments? A team led by an engineer at Michigan Technological University has published an open-source library of designs that will let scientists build the commonly used piece of equipment: the syringe pump on their 3D printer.

Joshua Pearce's lab made this web-enabled double syringe pump for less than $160. Emily Hunt photo

Syringe pumps are used to dispatch precise amounts of liquid, as for drug delivery or mixing chemicals in a reaction. They can also cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Joshua Pearce and his team of Michigan Tech students published the library of free syringe-pump designs, so anyone can download, customize, and print out their own version using an open-source RepRap 3D printer, for the cost of the plastic filament.

"Not only have we designed a single syringe pump, we've designed all future syringe pumps," said Pearce. "Scientists can customize the design of a pump for exactly what they are doing, just by changing a couple of numbers in the software."

This Open-Source Syringe Pump Library includes recipes for most parts of a syringe pump. You'll have to buy the small electric stepper motor that drives the liquid, some simple hardware and the syringe itself, which is inexpensive.

Digital Photograph of Open-Source Syringe Pump version of the Dual Nema 17

The team also used a low-cost, open source Raspberry Pi computer as a wireless control device.

"That way, you can link the syringe pump to the network, sit on a beach in Hawaii and control your lab," Pearce said. "Plenty of people can have access, and you can run multiple experiments at the same time. Our entire single-pump system costs only $50 and can replace pumps that run between $250 and $2,500."

Pearce believes someone will figure out how to make them better and improve their design and share the their results with the community. "That's the beauty and power of open source," he said.

Open source is becoming the norm in software development, however, the team argues that "even greater cost reductions for science, can be found with the application of open source hardware." The open-source syringe pump system, including the controller and web-based control interface, costs only 5% or less than one would expect to pay for a commercial syringe pump having similar performance.

"The development of open-source hardware has the potential to radically reduce the cost of performing experimental science and put high-quality scientific tools in the hands of everyone from the most prestigious labs to rural clinics in the developing world."

Their work is described in the paper "Open-source Syringe Pump Library" and the hardware plans, designs, and source code for the pumps is available for free here.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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Joe Q. wrote at 9/19/2014 7:29:44 PM:

I wonder how precise these syringe pumps are. (Most lab syringe pumps need to be pretty precise in terms of how many millilitres per minute they pump.)

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