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3-D, Open-Source Syringe Pump Cuts Research Lab Costs

3-D printed syringe pump

3-D printed syringe pump (Emily Hunt, Michigan Technological University)

18 September 2014. Engineers at Michigan Technological University in Houghton produced a syringe pump, a common but often expensive piece of lab equipment, with three-dimensional printing that drastically cuts the cost of the device. The team led by Michigan Tech’s Joshua Pearce published its findings yesterday in the journal PLoS One, and makes the pump’s designs available through an open-source library.

Syringe pumps are computer-controlled devices for injecting liquids into solutions or cultures in precisely controlled quantities, as required in academic or corporate labs. Factory-manufactured syringe pumps, however, can be expensive, running into hundreds or thousands of dollars per unit, which often limits their use and number in research labs.

Pearce and colleagues created their syringe pump with a 3-D printer, using free and publicly-available components and software, which they say costs as little as 5 percent of the prices charged for factory-made devices. The team designed three basic configurations that requires inexpensive manufactured metal parts — e.g., bearings, rods, and stepper motors — while the casings, clamps, and wedges are 3-D printed from plastic filaments.The 3-D printing is done with a RepRap printer, itself the product of an open-source research and development project.

The software controlling the RepRap is written in OpenSCAD, an open-source 3-D solid modeling program that supports complex designs. The OpenSCAD design is translated using Cura, another open-source software, into a file format readable by the RepRap called g-code that controls actions of the print-head.

The devices are controlled by systems based on a Raspberry Pi, an open-source processing system about the size of a credit-card, that connects either through a wired or wireless link to the motor in the pump. While the researchers created three basic designs for the syringe pump, users can adjust the calibration, speed, and position of the pump through software. The controller can also drive more than one pump in parallel.

The Michigan Tech team tested the 3-D printed devices and found the pumps were able to deliver liquids within 1 to 5 percent of the desired amounts, depending on the size of pump. The tests included a configuration running two syringes simultaneously.

While the researchers designed three basic configurations, the use of 3-D printing makes it possible for labs to custom-design pumps for their own research needs. The low-price of the 3-D printed devices also enables labs to run more of their experiments in parallel rather than use a single pump sequentially.

“Not only have we designed a single syringe pump,” says Pearce in a university statement, “we’ve designed all future syringe pumps.”

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