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, 13 (3), e1002086

Open Labware: 3-D Printing Your Own Lab Equipment


Open Labware: 3-D Printing Your Own Lab Equipment

Tom Baden et al. PLoS Biol.

Erratum in


The introduction of affordable, consumer-oriented 3-D printers is a milestone in the current "maker movement," which has been heralded as the next industrial revolution. Combined with free and open sharing of detailed design blueprints and accessible development tools, rapid prototypes of complex products can now be assembled in one's own garage--a game-changer reminiscent of the early days of personal computing. At the same time, 3-D printing has also allowed the scientific and engineering community to build the "little things" that help a lab get up and running much faster and easier than ever before.

Conflict of interest statement

Authors GG and TM are founders of Backyard Brains (, a company specializing in the design and distribution of Open Labware.


Fig 1
Fig 1. Examples of open 3-D printed laboratory tools.
A 1, Components for laboratory tools, such as the base for a micromanipulator [18] shown here, can be rapidly prototyped using 3-D printing. A 2, The printed parts can be easily combined with an off-the-shelf continuous rotation servo-motor (bottom) to motorize the main axis. B 1, A 3-D printable micropipette [8], designed in OpenSCAD [19], shown in full (left) and cross-section (right). B 2, The pipette consists of the printed parts (blue), two biro fillings with the spring, an off-the-shelf piece of tubing to fit the tip, and one screw used as a spacer. B 3, Assembly is complete with a laboratory glove or balloon spanned between the two main printed parts and sealed with tape to create an airtight bottom chamber continuous with the pipette tip. Accuracy is ±2–10 μl depending on printer precision, and total capacity of the system is easily adjusted using two variables listed in the source code, or accessed via the “Customizer” plugin on the thingiverse link [8]. See also the first table.
Fig 2
Fig 2. Evolution of an Open Labware design.
A, A 3-D printable micromanipulator with a slanted Z-axis [18], here shown amidst commercial alternatives, initially served as the basis for a motorized version with “real” Z axis [32] (B). B 1,2, the three axes are driven by continuous-rotation micro-servos, controlled by an Arduino fitted with a Joystick-shield and a 9V battery. B 3, The motorized manipulator offers sufficient precision to target individual hairs on the head of a fruitfly (±5–20 μm during movements, depending on printer precision; <1 μm drift min-1 when stationary). Scale bar 1 mm. C 1, The same manipulator build was then converted into a microscope-stage to permit accurate placement and focus of histology samples [34]. The optics are provided by an off-the-shelf, low-power acrylic lens positioned directly above a Raspberry Pi camera module [3]. C2, Image taken with the microscope, showing a slice of mouse brain (hippocampus) stained for cytochrome oxidase C. Scale bar 500 μm.
Fig 3
Fig 3. Open Labware at universities in sub-Saharan Africa.
An online survey was taken by 89 biomedical researchers (MSc. to Professor) at universities in 12 different sub-Saharan African countries in August 2014. Researchers rated their own competency and awareness in aspects of software and hardware usage. A, Software competency rated on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) in “basic usage such as navigating office software or the internet,” “usage of open analysis packages such as R [44], octave [45], or similar,” and “programming, e.g., using C++, python, or any other mainstream language.” B, Hardware awareness for possibilities in “3-D printing” (top) and “single board computers/microcontrollers such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino, Beagleboard, or similar” rated in four categories: (i) “I have never heard of this,” (ii) “I have heard of it but I have no access,” (iii) “I have tried using this at least once,” (iv) “I am a competent/routine user.”
Fig 4
Fig 4. Hands-on exposure to Open Labware in the developing world.
A, Each student assembled a spikerbox [10,49], an amplifier for neurophysiological experiments, from its off-the-shelf components. B, Students at a workshop in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. C, The assembled amplifiers were subsequently used to perform simple neurophysiological experiments [51]. Image credit for panels B and C: Horst Schneider. D, One student set up a spikerbox via an Arduino to trigger closure of a “gripper-hand,” a low-cost robotic limb, through contractions of their forearm muscles.

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