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Researchers develop affordable microscale 3D printing technology

Professor Paul Dalton's team, from the University of Oregon, has converted a standard 3D printer into a high-resolution bioengineering research printer - called the 'MEWron' - for under $3,000

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A breakthrough in microscale 3D printing technology, which is widely used in fields such as tissue engineering, cancer research, and biofabrication, has now become accessible to researchers, globally, thanks to the University of Oregon. This innovation stems from the lab of Paul Dalton, a professor in the Department of Bioengineering at the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact, and a pioneer of melt electrowriting (MEW). The paper, ‘MEWron: An open-source melt electrowriting platform,’ can be found here.

The innovation involves MEW, a unique class of additive manufacturing invented by Dalton that enables the creation of high-resolution fibrous and porous structures using electrically charged molten polymers. Traditionally, commercial MEW 3D printers, costing over $100,000, and a lack of standardized custom options, have impeded research progress in the field. However, Professor Dalton’s recent paper provides instructions for converting a standard 3D printer into a bioengineering research printer for under $3,000. This development could catalyze progress in tissue engineering and biomaterial development.

Professor Dalton’s initiative, primarily funded by his startup funding from the Knight Campus, has brought a low-cost, open-source 3D printer modification into existence that can fabricate complex scaffolds with precision. Major contributions to this breakthrough include the development of a filament-feed system for 3D printing by research engineer Simon Luposchainsky, which broadens access and enables the production of new kinds of materials.

Professor Paul Dalton's team, from the University of Oregon, has develop an affordable microscale 3D printer - called the 'MEWron'.
Visiting postdoctoral scholars Paula González Saiz and Ander Reizabal López-Para from BCMaterials. Source: University of Oregon.

The filament-based feeding system and a conventional MEW pneumatic feeding system with a syringe reservoir were implemented in the modification. The resulting configuration offers precise control over flow rates, allowing the amalgamation of different fiber diameters in high-resolution scaffolds. The converted printer, named the “MEWron,” provides an affordable platform for high-resolution structures.

This project involved researchers from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s School of Engineering, in Switzerland, and the University of the Basque Country’s Basque Center for Materials. This collaboration aims to facilitate worldwide research progress.

Affordable and commercially available components were prioritized in the creation of the MEWron. The team transformed a commercially available Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) 3D printer kit into a versatile melt electrowriting device.

Robert Guldberg, Vice President and Executive Director of the Knight Campus, applauded Dalton’s work for aiding future biomedical innovations – emphasizing the significance of making such advanced manufacturing technologies universally accessible.

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Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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