Research finds 3D printed chemically resistant labware viable with low-cost printers

New research published in Additive Manufacturing, describes the potential of 3D printed customized labware and reaction vessels.

The research team from Finland’s Aalto University and Michigan Technological University, includes Joshua M. Pearce – a leading researcher into many applications of 3D printing. Dr. Pearce runs Michigan Tech’s Open Sustainability Technology Lab. 

The study advances the goal of producing a toolkit for customized and chemically resistant lab equipment using affordable material and FFF/FDM 3D printers.Testing was performed using the Lulzbot Taz 6 3D printer from Aleph Objects who, together with Fulbright Finland, supported the research.

3D printed labware and reaction vessels

Replacing broken or faulty lab equipment with vendor supplied parts can be a slow and costly process which causes delays to ongoing research projects. On-spot 3D printing lab equipment has provided a viable solution to these problems.

Furthermore, 3D printing allows for customized medical devices and equipment, which can give more freedom to scientists working on a research project and prevent injuries.

“Customized lab tools also reduce the need to use excess amounts of chemicals,” write the researchers, “as there would be no need to prepare large amounts of solutions into chemical tanks in wet benches. This, in turn, reduces the processing costs and the risk of personal injury in laboratories.”

The research paper describes how, ten widely available 3D printing plastics, including PLA, ABS, and PETG, were tested for compatibility with solutions used to wet coat semiconductors.

Map of chemical compatibility of plastics and 3-D printing materials from the literature. Image via Additive Manufacturing.
Map of chemical compatibility of plastics and 3-D printing materials from the literature. Image via Additive Manufacturing.

Experimenting with 3D printed labware

The study was limited to testing the compatibility of 3D printing filaments with solvents, acids, and bases used in wet processing of semiconductor materials.

Experimentation was divided into 3 Phases. In the first phase, the 3D printing filaments were immersed chemical solution for one week. The effects on the materials were compared against the results of previously validated scientific literature on chemical compatibility.

The filaments which showed acceptable level of compatibility were included in the second phase. Small rectangular samples were 3D printed from each filament, and these samples were immersed in the same chemical solution as phase 1.

The results were drawn out on two tables suggesting which materials might be most suitable for 3D printing a particular lab tool.

The researchers concluded that “affordable commercial 3D printing materials (many of which were not previously tested) are viable options for making customized and chemically resistant labware for handling semiconductor samples in which possible surface contamination does not impair device functionality.”

[IMAGE] showing a chemical compatibility map

Medical Open Source 3D printing projects

3D printing has provided inexpensive alternatives to otherwise costly equipment available to biomedical researchers, and additionally those in need of medical devices.

The Open Source 3D printed microfluidics control instrument created by researchers from New York Genome Center and New York University is 20 to 200 times cheaper than other similar instruments. In a similar venture, Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of California, Irvine also 3D printed microfluidics controlling LEGO bricks. Dr. Michael Laufer of the Four Thieves Vinegar is currently running an Open Source project which encourages people to 3D print medical devices, such as the Epipen, at a very low cost.

The Glia medical project also provides open source 3D printable medical equipment. This project was initiated particularly to address the shortage of medical supplies in war torn areas like Gaza.

The research paper Chemical compatibility of fused filament fabrication-based 3D printed components with solutions commonly used in semiconductor wet processing was co-authored by Ismo T.S.Heikkinen, Christoffer Kauppinen, Zhengjun Liu, Sanja M.Asikainen,  Steven Spoljaric, Jukka V.Seppälä, Hele Savin and Joshua M.Pearce. It is published in Additive Manufacturing.

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Featured image shows testing the 3D printed labware. Image via Additive Manufacturing.