Lab equipment tends to be expensive, but some scientists have found a way to reduce the cost of such equipment by 3D printing it. 3D printing has been used to make inexpensive reactors and microscopes, as well as other tools. Thus far, these 3D printed tools have been mostly hacks used by individual labs, not commercial products, but one company has now created a piece of 3D printed lab equipment that is being marketed to a wide audience.
DWK Life Sciences is known for its glass labware products, developed under its DURAN brand. But recently the company has turned to metal 3D printing and has created a 4-port GL 45 bottle connector cap using metal additive manufacturing. The component is fully functional and 3D printed using medical grade 316L stainless steel. DWK Life Sciences decided to turn to 3D printing for several reasons, particularly the benefits it offered in terms of reduced cost and time.
“Development of new lab ware, especially glass products, is traditionally a slow process. In contrast, the development time for the 3D printed connector cap was very short: from the first idea to the final printed product only took about two months,” said DURAN Product Manager Alistair Rees.
Stainless steel connector GL 45 caps like the one 3D printed by DWK Life Sciences are traditionally manufactured using conventional machining and welding processes. Not only did 3D printing reduce the time and cost required to make the part, it also reduced the weight – from more than 150 grams to about 50. That’s a weight reduction of more than two-thirds.
Every batch of the parts takes about 51 hours to 3D print using an EOS system. That’s a lot quicker than traditional manufacturing processes.
The fact that DWK Life Sciences 3D printed such a small part might not seem like a huge deal, but it’s pretty big for various reasons. First, the fact that a 3D printed piece of lab equipment is being sold commercially is a big step for the laboratory equipment industry, as the technology moves from being a method for individual hacks to being a true means of production. While a bottle connector cap may be a small part, 3D printing it opens the door for 3D printing to be used to produce many more parts, including potentially larger ones.
Because of the time and money saved through 3D printing, companies like DWK Life Sciences can offer such products more inexpensively, and that’s a big deal for scientists who use these products. Again, lab equipment can be pricey, and the costs add up – and in a field that depends on grants for research, every little bit counts in terms of saving money. 3D printing has resulted in money savings for a large number of other industries, so the lab equipment market should be no exception.
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