The benefits of 3D printing

A shortage of spare parts for an instrument meant that researcher Michael Axelsson decided to try printing the parts out using a 3D printer. Now the instrument works better than before.

In spring 2014, Professor Michael Axelsson tried to order spare parts from the UK for a measuring chamber for measuring the oxygen content of the corpora cavernosa. But he was told that the parts he wanted were no longer manufactured. He had read about 3D printers and started to look for information online. He downloaded software and designed the parts himself, then sent them off for printing to one of the rapidly growing number of companies that now offer 3D print-outs.

“With the parts I designed, I was able to modify the measuring chamber so that modern fibre optic oxygen measuring technology can now be used, making it better and more stable. That really whetted my appetite – it was great fun!”

Michael Axelsson

Michael Axelsson

AS WELL AS THE PARTS for the measuring chamber, he has also designed a specially adapted magnetic stirrer for the chamber that makes measurements easier, and a holder for tweezers used on a microsurgery course.
“Top-of-the-line tweezers cost 4,000 kronor, and they sometimes break. With the tweezer holder we can buy cheaper tweezers for around 400 kronor each, fit them into the holder and come close to the ergonomics of the more expensive tweezers. And if the tweezers break, we just fit new tweezers into the holder.”

THE USE OF 3D PRINTERS is widespread in engineering and even in medicine, but is relatively uncharted territory in biological scientific research. Professor Axelsson sees great opportunities for the use of 3D printers in research.
“The process from design to prototype is fast, and you can quickly make modifications if the results aren’t as intended.”

He has chosen not to buy his own 3D printer – he finds it easier to pay for print-outs and avoid purchasing, maintenance and upgrade costs, as he is not constantly working with 3D print-outs.
“The main restriction on what can be done is your imagination. You can print out different types of plastics, but you can also print using metal or biomaterials. You can design and print out things that would be very difficult to make in an ordinary workshop.”