Posts Tagged ‘3d printing’

Making Human Tissue With MakerBot And RepRap

This month is Space Month at MakerBot1 , so let’s talk about some space-age stuff: 3D printing human tissue, and using MakerBot to do it.

Jordan Miller, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (and a co-founder of Hive76!) had a brainstorm one day. One of the big problems in trying to convince living cells to grow into things like liver tissue or heart tissue is that the cells ultimately die when they can’t get nutrients. The tissues in our bodies have blood vessels to solve this problem, but trying to 3D print a tiny empty space is just hard.

Jordan’s breakthrough was to not even try to print empty space. Instead, make a model of the blood vessel network, or vascular system, in a material that will ultimately dissolve away: sugar. Enter MakerBot and RepRap, and enter an exciting new research platform for tissue engineering. The paper was recently published in the journal Nature Materials.

Important note here. There’s this thing about sugar: it sucks up the water from the air. To keep it dry and intact, Jordan and the team figured they had to heat up the platform. As he explains in this great post at the RepRap Blog, this concept turned out to have benefits for making things on a MakerBot. In 2010 we adopted that team’s model as our first generation Heated Build Platform.

Jordan Miller pictured with his MakerBot Cupcake CNC

The back and forth of these technologies has continued, and Jordan and his collaborators made use of MakerBot in a few ways. The most important thing to recognize is that this work would have been impossible if not for open hardware systems like MakerBot and RepRap. Here’s why.

If you want to squeeze sugar through a small nozzle, you won’t do it quite the same way as you would with plastic. Sugar is brittle and doesn’t shape nicely into a wire and wind through gears. So a standard filament extruder was out of the question.

Light bulb! A hot glue gun squeezing sugar sticks instead of glue sticks would do the trick. Jordan used a MakerBot CupCake (#000233!) to make the custom mounting for the glue gun contraption. Watch it in the video below.

Problem! While they could start the sugar extrusion very precisely, they couldn’t stop it. But the open source community finds possible solutions and adapts them. In 2009, MakerBot released the Frostruder, our take on an extrusion device for materials like cupcake frosting. The idea itself is based on Fab@Home’s paste extruder, but works with an air compressor. Crucial to Jordan’s purposes, it’s able to stop extruding very precisely when the computer code tells it to. Because the Frostruder design is open source, Jordan and his team could easily adapt it to their needs (they needed it to also have a heated nozzle to melt the sugar). Check out the baricUDA Extruder on Thingiverse!

With this adapted extruder, heated build platform, and a lot of trial and error, this research team has introduced a great new way to work with 3D-printed tissues.


  1. since we can’t figure out if we actually invented the concept of Space Month. Can someone help? []
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Professor Uses MakerBot For Human Inner Ear Models

Speaking of super serious things, look at this great model of a human inner ear, uploaded to Thingiverse by a neuroscientist under the name neurothing. He signs things in real life under the name Seth Horowitz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology at Brown University.

We have seen some great stuff on Thingiverse in the realm of anatomical models, like Dr. Nicholas Giovinco’s Human foot and Botfarm88’s Spinal Column, and this is a sweet addition. First of all, it shows that you can make great anatomical models on The Replicator. Seth told me in email that he “always hated having to pay $$$ for anatomical models; given the quality of The Replicator, I’ve started kicking out the jams on my anatomical model building.”

Aortic Bifurcation by Cbonsig


Secondly, it shows that you can make things that don’t necessarily have a strong flat face. This model has at most three small points that attach to the build platform, but with a raft and outside support (these are clickable settings within our software Replicator G), you can find a good orientation. Although, Dr. Horowitz does warn that there may only be one good orientation.

The good doctor notes in the Thingiverse page for this model that he used five-count-’em-five shells. For those who don’t know, a shell is the outer layer of the thing you are trying to make, the skin, and you can just add shells at will without having to model them. Five is a lot, but Seth says he can make the inner ear model consistently with 5 and 3 wasn’t cutting it. When you’re doing something new that no one else has done, there may be a little trial and error, but luckily it only costs a few cents of plastic and a little time.

In this fantastically well-written piece on MAKE, Seth mentions that he sees 3D printing as a form of data actualization. The data for this model came from this page, which presents it as a .vrml file usable in Rhino3D. However, it is possible to turn DICOM files, as he explains:

I can create models from DICOM data pretty easily using ImageJ (the NIH’s free image/volume modelling program – steep learning curve but very flexible –  ImageJ will import the files; then you use the ImageJ 3D viewer plugin ( that takes the stack and allows you to view surface models which can then be saved as wavefront (.obj) files that can be opened in Rhino and turned into .stl files (usually after a lot of cleanup).  It’s all very doable with some practice

In the same piece on MAKE, he goes into more depth about how the first application he used a MakerBot for: a setup to hold live bats in place for experiments. I noticed that he was doing this on a MakerBot Cupcake CNC, and now we know he has graduated to The Replicator. Glad to have  you along for the ride, Seth.


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Kids Learn To Make Mechanical Parts At 3D Printing Camp

There’s something about seeing kids making things that just makes you think, “the future’s going to be fine.”

Here are some shots from the 3D Design/Printing workshop “On the Move”, hosted by MakerBot and NYU-Poly last week. MakerBot education wizards Liz Arum and Jon Santiago1  were there to show kids ages 10-13 how to use free modeling software and a MakerBot to make mechanical parts like gears for larger moving objects.


  1. Jon’s organization HTINK “provides academic enrichment programs and professional development services that connect Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) concepts to issues of environmental justice, community development and workforce readiness.” Find out more at []
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Some Photos from HOPE Number 9

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”makerbot” id=”72157630618316352″ width=”700″]

Check out a few images from MakerBot’s weekend at HOPE Number 9!

Thanks also to the many visitors who snapped great photos of the MakerBot vendor table and have been sending us some links, including the below photo from Laughing Squid coverage of HOPE Number 9. Scott Beale deserves a special prize for stumbling on (and documenting beautifully) MakerBot wherever we appear in the world: our unofficial photojournalist-at-large. Laughing Squid….also documented the Toy Tokyo booth at San Diego Comic Con at the same time. Wow! How do they do that?

If you have been holding out on me, share links to your photos of MakerBot at HOPE and we’ll share them here!

MakerBot Replicator

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Could You Really Manufacture Your Own Electronics?

What will our electronics look like when we are each making the manufacturing decisions for our own gadgets? And when you only need to make the one that you like, not one that ten million people will like?

That’s the question posed by Peter Krige, Alexander du Preez, and Hannes Harms at the Royal College of Art in London.1  Their O.System concept is like an online mix-and-match catalog of electronic components that you manufacture individually — with 3D printing — to suit your needs.

Here’s how they see the process working:

In this system, people select their electronic products online. They can then visit their local O.Store to talk to the technician about the purchase and add personal touches. O.Products can constantly evolve through update cards in the post, while old electronic cards are sent back for re-manufacture or recycling.


Like Creative Applications writes, the idea that you just make an updated card or other component and send your old one back helps address the problem of electronics becoming obsolete. This sounds like the customized 3D-printed robots project from MIT’s CSAIL, and also like Bobby Genalo’s Art Phones project.

The world is really starting to think in terms of individual, on-demand products. Cool. But what is the role of the industrial designer? Do we all have it in us to think about user experience? Where’s the middle ground for people who really do just want products off the shelf?


  1. double checked the spelling of these names []
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3D Modeling/Printing Camp For Kids: Price Dropped!


There is still time to enroll your child in a very important learning opportunity, and good news: the price has dropped and the eligibility has expanded!

NYU Poly’s Center for K-12 STEM Education and MakerBot are combining powers to get kids introduced to 3D modeling and 3D printing. This is an excellent chance to give them a leg up with a set of skills that will become very advantageous in the near future.

Here are the details:

Where: NYU-Poly Campus
6 MetroTech Center
Brooklyn, NY
Room RH 214

When: July 9th-13th, 2012 from 9am to 3pm daily

Who: Ages 10-13

Cost:  $500 $400/student (includes a lunch voucher good in our cafeteria)

Email [email protected] to find out more.

Click here to sign up!


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Now You Can Make Your Own DIWire


Here’s a morning treat for you!

Marco from Pensa has posted a new how-to video for building your own DIWire, including a parts list and all the code (on a Google code site). Best news yet: the files for the parts you can MakerBot are all available on Thingiverse!

We posted about the DIWire a few weeks back with a lot of enthusiasm for Pensa’s goal of bringing down the costs of a CNC wire bender. It is so awesome to see that they’ve gone the extra mile and shared all the files and know how with everyone. And best yet, they’ve noted ways that people can help improve the project:

There are many ways to improve it. For instance, the wire straightener was good enough for now, but if you google wire straightener, you’ll see how its usually done. Also, the motors we “spec’ed” are the ones we found in a bin in our shop. They are pricey because they are real accurate, but not so powerful. Right now, with these motors can only bend 1/8” aluminum rod, and the 3D printed parts also would need to get stronger in order to bend more substantial material. So, if you make one and improve upon it, let us know, we’ll post your improvements for everyone else to see.

Check out the Pensa blog for more details on the project, and some other nice videos.


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This Tripod Adapter Was Made On A MakerBot

Speaking of whether or not you could MakerBot a “real” product1 , here’s a fairly thorough little case study of one company using a Thing-O-Matic to manufacture a final product. Conclusion?

3D printers can make “Real” products
As of today, people will pay for 3D printed parts and as we develop new techniques for combining it with digital manufacturing technologies, such as laser cutting and water jet machining, our products will become more complex. We believe that our only limitation is our imagination.

I Heart Robotics, who are also in Brooklyn, give a great breakdown of all the costs that go into making a TriK Tripod Adapter (for a Kinect), which sells on their store for $19.95.

They say the only complaint they’ve gotten so far was when they couldn’t make the adapter in the color a customer wanted. That’s a pretty easy fix.

It’s also cool to see these guys using their Thing-O-Matic to produce a part where they’re not quite sure of the market. You don’t have to do too much market research if you can make the product on demand, and if you only sell 20 of them, you probably don’t want to sink a bunch of money into injection molding costs. They’ve sold 56 adapters since buying their Thing-O-Matic in September, 2011, which nearly pays for the machine itself. As they note in the blog post, with 107 units sold overall, they certainly could never have profited from another method of manufacturing.


  1. okay, we were speaking about this a while ago… []
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Surgeon Finds Big Savings With MakerBot, 3D Printing

Get a load of this title: “How 3D printing built a new face.”

Wired UK posted a slideshow and brief last week as a preview to an article in the upcoming July issue about the use of 3D printing for an inspiring face transplant, including bones! This is amazing, especially since the patient was able to speak afterwards.


<Warning> Some of the links below may present some graphic pictures of surgery, but they’re not too bad, and definitely worth the read.

And then I remembered Nicholas Giovinco, DPM, a MakerBot user who has made it his business to show others how a combination of 3D printing technologies can significantly increase the knowledge a surgeon takes into  the operating room, and therefore significantly decrease the time a procedure takes.

Down in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. Giovinco, a foot and ankle surgeon, recognized the huge potential of using a MakerBot to get a good look at a bone structure before operating on it. This is hugely important in one particular kind of surgery he performs, Charcot Foot reconstruction. I’m not a doctor, so I’ll give you my best understanding of this and refer you to Nick’s own incredible documentation: basically this is a foot that has collapsed, and the patient doesn’t necessarily feel it because of neuropathy caused by other conditions like diabetes.

Sufferers of the Charcot condition don’t give the surgeon a predictable operation. Their feet are all different, and just like in the case of the face transplant, it pays big time to know what that foot looks like before you have to cut it open. Here’s the procedure, and notice how remarkably inexpensive this is.

— Take a CT scan. Doctors are going to order one of these anyway, so there’s a bunch of good data just waiting to be used.
— Run the scan through OsiriX, a free application for viewing DICOM files (DICOM is a medical imaging file standard). This allows you to turn the layers from a CT scan into a 3D model.
— Once there’s a 3D model of the bone structure, it can be manipulated in a program like Lightwave or Maya. A surgeon can basically do the surgery on the screen.
— Make the model and practice the cuts with surgical saws.

Dr. Giovinco’s specific process involves using a MakerBot to get the model just right before making the “practice” foot on another kind of 3D printer at Freeside, a hackerspace in Atlanta. In fact, the participating members at Freeside were so instrumental in the whole experiment that their names were included at the top of the paper when it was published in The Journal of Foot & Ankle Surgery.

The most impressive part of this may not be how incredibly inexpensive the planning process was — it cost Dr. Giovinco and his team about $40, not the $1500 that some services charge for bone models — but how much time and money the ability to plan may have saved the patient and medical team. Having an anatomically correct model of the pre-operative foot and the post-operative foot means knowing exactly how this surgery will proceed without having to tinker around at all. Also, and this is huge, it let the team pre-assemble the Ilizarov construct (a cage thing that holds everything in place afterwards) beforehand, which takes at least an hour of surgery time on its own.


Two take-home points here. This is an inspiring example of how 3D printing more generally may play a huge role in bringing down the costs and risks of medical procedures. But closer to home, this is another in a long string of examples of people in the MakerBot community helping each other to make great things happen. Check out this exchange of Google Group messages that kicked things off:

And the rest is history. Now Nick is traveling the country discussing this work — all part of being a surgical resident, he tells us — and explaining to his colleagues how efficient a work flow like this can be. When you’re working with diabetic patients, it’s all the more important that surgery time be reduced as much as possible.

Our hats are off to Nick and the whole team involved in this work. It’s an excellent example of the DIY spirit improving — and maybe even saving — lives.


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NYU Poly 3D Modeling/Printing Workshop For Middle School Students




If you’re a parent in the New York City region, take a look at this great summer workshop being organized by NYU Poly. “On the Move” is a week-long program targeted to students entering 6th, 7th, and 8th grades in the fall, and it is focused on 3D modeling and 3D printing. These are the skills that will set the next generation of creative kids apart from their peers. Get them started now!

We’re especially proud to recommend this program, since the MakerBot Education Team, Liz Arum and Jon Santiago, will be leading the instruction. Here’s some info from the website.

This workshop will focus on 3D Printing, one of the most disruptive technologies around. 3D printers allow anyone at any skill level to become producers, inventors and artists, and they are changing the way we create and learn.  During this one-week intensive workshop students will learn how to make and personalize 3D models with free, readily available software like Tinkercad, OpenSCAD and Blender. Our theme will be “On the Move,” and we will be focusing on making gears, interlocking parts and other physical mechanisms to make our creations, walk, shake, dance and fly. No prior modeling, computer or printing experience is necessary.

Where: NYU-Poly Campus
6 MetroTech Center
Brooklyn, NY
Room RH 214

When: July 9th-13th, 2012 from 9am to 3pm daily

Cost:  $500.00/student (includes a lunch voucher good in our cafeteria)

Questions? Email Susan Hermon at [email protected]


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