Coding 3-D Printers - The Newest Sub-Field Of Bioinformatics?
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8.7 years ago

As the hype, affordability and practical uses of 3-D printers grows, it is becoming apparent to me that some (or all) programming duties of these devices could or really will fall to the bioinformatics scientist within a lab or department. Right now these printers can produce some very basic lab supplies - gel combs, cracked lids/caps, lost pieces to who knows what - and do so at a very small fraction of the price.

So, do you see the activity of writing and submitting code for these printers as a request or responsibility that will fall to the computational biologist or bioinformatics scientist or to a different kind of technical expert? Right now, I do not program our Tecan liquid handling robot. We've hired an outside specialist for that on a one-time basis. Lab equipment is a bit more biological is the reason for its use (in a biological experiment) but its replacement and redesign is clearly something rather like engineering.

In the end, while a printer costs about $1600, we need to plan to whom the programming duties will be assigned. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

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Were you also intrigued by this blog?

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Indeed, and it was one item that prompted this question. It's easy to budget for the printer, but not so easy to adequately plan who will program the thing.

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I've been keeping tabs on potential technologies we can co-op into lab equipment. I really like Arduino (http://www.arduino.cc/). I think combining 3d-printing with controller cards like the Ardiuno, we can automate a lot of the repetitive benchwork tasks.

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The cost of printing is likely to go up, as the technology gets more popular and patent police get involved and start tacking on ridiculous licensing fees: http://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2012/11/20/506562/10013332/en/3D-Systems-Announces-Filing-of-Patent-Infringement-Suit-Against-Formlabs-and-Kickstarter.html

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8.7 years ago

This sounds very interesting and useful. I really like it and would like one for me.

I can imagine it useful for teaching, for the lab (as Russel described), for printing prototypes, examples to show in seminar, etc. But I would feel far from using my bioinformatic knowledge or skills by doing that, like when I print a poster: it's useful, it's about science, but it's not science (then bioinformatics). Indeed, I don't think using it or coding for it, is bioinformatics or even computational biology (for those who think the intersection between both is null). I don't say no bioinformatician should be interested by using his computer skills to benefit from this newly affordable technology (again, I would like to) but I really hope nobody would request me to do that because I'm a bioinformatician. For me, it would be like if my PI (a computer enemy) requested my skills to fix her laptop (despite I do it sometimes when it's easy and because I propose).

I'm not sure I'm right, but I really hope it won't never be a subfield of bioinformatics.

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8.7 years ago

Here are some resources I have found when trying to see if this is something worth bringing in-house,

OpenSCAD

  • Polygon based programming language. For simple things it looks easy to learn. There is the free manual
  • There is also a web based javascript program that creates the code for you here (I have not tried this yet)

Other Software

Existing Models

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8.7 years ago
Biojl ★ 1.7k

It looks like a database with pieces-printer-code will be built in the nearby future. To me that's the logical next step. So we may be talking about minor adjustements to the code? That sounds like an easily task for a bioinformatician. If we are talking about building complex pieces from scratch... we may need a real engineer/matematician.

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