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riceThe benefits of 3D printing today are universally appreciated, to include strength and quality in models and components that can be made quickly, offering greater affordability on most levels, and an almost luxurious latitude is afforded by options in customization. But one of the greatest perks is in the amount of independence and self-sustainability that can be found at the 3D printer by those who are empowered to steer their own paths to creativity, innovation, as well as incredible scientific breakthroughs—all chipping away at the world as we know it currently, headed toward a massive transformation in the way we make things.

And a team of researchers from Rice University are very much enjoying the results of not only independence in fabrication, but what comes of it when you also make the 3D printer itself. Upon the manufacturing of their own SLS 3D printer, they are able to take advantage of making complex objects with a variety of materials.

opensls-r2We’ve been following the story and progress of the OpenSLS platform for some time now, as we explored some of Andreas Bastian’s designs, to include this one, which has been underway since 2013 as the research team built a functional prototype—all funded by Dr. Jordan Miller’s Lab for microphysiological systems engineering and advanced materials, at Rice University. Bastian is one of the authors on the subject of the OpenSLS in a recent paper just published in Plos One, called ‘Open-Source Selective Laser Sintering (OpenSLS) of Nylon and Biocompatible Polycaprolactone,’ by Ian S. Kinstlinger, Andreas Bastian, Samantha J. Paulsen, Daniel H. Hwang, Anderson H. Ta, David R. Yalacki, Tim Schmidt, and Jordan S. Miller.

“Designing our own laser-sintering machine means there’s no company-mandated limit to the types of biomaterials we can experiment with for regenerative medicine research,” said Ian Kinstlinger, study co-author.

Through creating their own technology they’ve developed a system that–although probably not meant for the mainstream any time soon or probably ever—costs 40 times less than what they would have to purchase for the lab, and most importantly, allows them to work with the specialized materials they are developing as well. Also important is that their 3D printer can handle overhangs, which would not be the case otherwise.

The study itself outlines the development of—and future uses for—the OpenSLS platform, which while offering greater independence and affordability for the scientists, is also able to handle overhangs.

“OpenSLS provides the scientific community with an accessible platform for the study of laser sintering and the fabrication of complex geometries in diverse materials,” state the authors.

Central to the paper is the discussion of the usefulness for the macroporous structured 3D printed lattices the researchers have created with polycaprolactone (PCL), and how it will be useful in the construction of medical devices.

“Widespread interest in using PCL for bone tissue engineering suggests that PCL lattices are relevant model scaffold geometries for engineering bone,” state the researchers in their paper.

Modified laser cutter creates 3D objects from multiple materials_popupIn dealing with the issue of using materials with larger grain size and resulting surface roughness, they created a vapor-smoothing technique, allowing for improvement on ‘elastic modulus’ and yield stress—as well as use for sacrificial templating of perfusable fluidic networks within orthogonal materials such as poly(dimethylsiloxane) silicone.

“Finally, we demonstrated that human mesenchymal stem cells were able to adhere, survive, and differentiate down an osteogenic lineage on sintered and smoothed PCL surfaces, suggesting that OpenSLS has the potential to produce PCL scaffolds useful for cell studies,” state the researchers.

They have been able to demonstrate what the OpenSLS can do with both the polycaprolactone and nylon, 3D printing high resolution, intricate objects and lattices.

“SLS technology is perfect for creating some of the complex shapes we use in our work, like the vascular networks of the liver and other organs,” said Jordan Miller, also a co-author in the study.

Truly the key leading to all of this is the freedom the researchers have had in using their own platform with their own materials—further leading to their own discoveries which should make quite an impact in the biomaterials and biomedical field. What do you think of this new technology? Discuss in the OpenSLS 3D Printer forum over at 3DPB.com.

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