A 3D printer for African labs!

3D printing has been in the news much lately. Although routinely employed in industry and design for more than a decade, 3D printers have recently come to be more and more affordable for private households. Today, build-your-own printer kits typically cost less than 1,000 Euros, and start as low as 500. The only additional things needed are a computer, free software, thousands of free online designs, and the raw material priced ~30 Euros per kg.

What can you do with it? Quite a lot as it turns out. Basically, any plastic based, small-ish object that one can cook-up in a 3D rendering software or choose from online databases such as thingyverse. Of course, the devil is in the details. Some designs are a lot easier to print than others. But even with the most low-key printers, a surprisingly diverse range of useful things can be created locally, and at low cost. In a lab setting, these may include centrifuge parts, eppendorf holders, forcepts, recording chambers, coarse pipettes or microscope adaptors and parts. Plus of course ‘home-design’ parts tha may be needed for any particular experiment. Funny adaptors, some supporting pieces, perhaps a handle, or a strange shaped piece that has gone missing from existing equipment. So overall, a very powerful toy when used correctly. Local manufacture of goods designed anywhere in the world and shared freely over the internet.

NB: one of the many free online books on building your own equipment is found here and a recent Commentary published by the same author in the Journal Science  here.

2013-12-13 15.07.16 2013-12-10 18.25.19 Tools - dremelfuge

parts - photo 1  photo

Top left: “Searcher” by Backyard Brains – a micromanipulator. Top middle: a working micropipette, top right: “Dremelfuge” – a centrifuge head that can be mounted on any drill. Cost of a table centrifuge: ~500-1,000 Euros. Cost of a drill: ~50 Euros. Bottom left: 3D printed mechanical parts for larger equipment and Bottom right: Casing for a Raspberry Pi and RPi camera


At TReND we have invested in one printer which is currently housed in the office in Tübingen: A Velleman K8200. All the things shown above were printed on this device!

This particular model currently costs 700 Euros, and comes as a complete kit by mail:

printer - unopened printer - parts3

printer - parts2  printer - parts1

Assembly of the kit is quite easy thanks to detailed instructions, and takes a few hours:

printer - almost finished printer - building

The finished printer gets connected to a computer through stardard issue USB and after some calibration is ready to go:

printer - finished printer - finished2

How does it work? very simple, conceptually. There is a nozzle that melts plastic filament and is placed in close proximity to the printbed such that a litte spaghetti of melted plastic comes out.

printer - oozing

The printbed then moves in 2 axes relative to the static nozzle to “paint” a thin layer of plastic – the 1st layer is generated. The nozzle then moves up a tiny bit, and the process is repeated building up complex 3D shapes as a result:

printer - printing1 printer - printing2

a 3D printed brain!

We try to raise the money to get these wonderful machines established at our many African partner universities! Donate now !


A random collection of 3D printable lab-things*

Real Time PCR module, powered by USB

Replacement parts for PCR machines

A simple microscope




Electrophoresis Combs

Electrophoresis chamber

Mircoscope adaptor for a smartphone

Pipette 1


Pipette 2

Behavioural setup: Fly track


Simple but very usefull stuff

Tube clamp



Microwell plate

PCR-tube forcepts


or 3D Models of complex shapes for teaching:

3D printed molecular shapes

T-RNA model

Cytochrome C


*Note that some of the above require open-source electronics to go along with it, e.g. a 20 US$ Arduino or some off-the-shelf sensors/motors