Recently, there has been an increase in STEM focused initiatives which has driven a corresponding increase in demand for laboratory equipment. In light of this demand, the scientific and engineering community has been using 3D printers to build tools and lab equipment faster and for less cost than before. Most of the tools scientists and engineers use in laboratories are highly customized and very expensive. 3D-printing of this scientific hardware, however, has the potential to bring costs down significantly while providing precisely tailored, unique, self-made tools. This type of activity presents a good opportunity for Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credits which are available to stimulate innovation.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- New or improved products, processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and costs associated with developing a patent. On December 18, 2015 President Obama signed the bill making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax and startup businesses can utilize the credit against $250,000 per year in payroll taxes.
3D Printable Equipment
The range of possible laboratory equipment that can be 3D printed is as diverse as the range of materials that can be 3D printed with. Printable materials start with an endless array of plastics and include stainless steel, copper, ceramics and much more. Basic equipment such as beakers, cylinders and test tubes can be easily 3D printed by almost any 3D printer. More sophisticated tools include custom condensers, pumps, pulleys, centrifuges, microscopes and detailed, custom component add-ons for a variety of different equipment and instruments.
The primary interest in 3D printing laboratory equipment involves the cost benefits. Numerous academic and corporate labs have reported saving several thousands of dollars using the 3D print method, many times on a single tool or piece of equipment alone. One study on 3D printed optics equipment, released by the Public Library of Science, found cost reductions generally over 97 percent, while some 3D printed components cost as low as 1 percent of the market price for optical products with a similar function.
Open Source Hardware
Open source models originated in the computer science industry when programmers began making source code available to the general public for use or modification from its original design. A similar initiative is beginning to take root in the 3D print realm where scientists and engineers routinely share designs for lab equipment that can be 3D printed. This concept allows colleagues and even competitors to create exact replicas of creative and workable solutions for the simple cost of materials used to print them. Those designs can then be further modified and shared, allowing them to evolve and improve along the way. Even better, the printers themselves are often open source as well.
An increase in STEM focused initiatives has been driving a corresponding increase in demand for laboratory equipment. Historically expensive equipment can be customized and produced for much less cost with the use of 3D printers. When scientists and engineers 3D print instruments and laboratory equipment, they may be eligible for R&D Tax credits which are available to stimulate innovation.
Charles Goulding and Michael Wilshire of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed lab equipment.
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