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Open-Source 3-D Printable Optics Library Introduced
Mar 2013
HOUGHTON, Mich., March 28, 2013 — A library of open-source, 3-D printable optics components could slash optics laboratory costs by as much as 97 percent, expanding access to a broader audience than previously possible.

Open-source designs have driven down the cost of software to the point that it is accessible to most people, and now the Michigan Technological University has jumped on board to bring the same cost savings to hardware.

“This library operates as a flexible, low-cost public-domain tool set for developing both research and teaching optics hardware,” said Joshua Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Tech.

The study found cost reductions generally over 97 percent, with some components representing only 1 percent of the current commercial investment for optical products of similar function.

An open-source self-replicating rapid prototyper printing a 3-D optical component — a filter bracket.
An open-source self-replicating rapid prototyper printing a 3-D optical component — a filter bracket. Courtesy of doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0059840.g002.

The designs were made customizable using OpenSCAD, an open-source, computer-aided design software tool, and printed on open-source RepRap 3-D printers. The electronics and controls are based on the open-source Arduino microcontroller environment.

“For example, commercial optical rail sells for around $380 per meter, and you can build an open alternative with printed parts for less than what you would pay in sales tax,” Pearce said. “And there is no sales tax, shipping costs or waiting for parts to come in stock or ship.”

This method of scientific hardware development enables a larger audience to participate in optical experimentation, both for research and teaching, than previous proprietary methods. For example, outfitting an undergraduate teaching laboratory with 30 optics setups would cost less than $500 using the open-source optics approach, compared with $15,000 for commercial versions.

“Saving money is nice, particularly for cash-strapped schools, but the real advantage of this approach is that it enables researchers to fabricate custom optics equipment in house. You get exactly what you need for your experiments, even if they are not commercially available,” Pearce said. “This is the future of scientific equipment. We have only just started.”

The research was published in PLOS One (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0059840).  

For more information, visit:

Filters3-D printable opticsAmericaseducationEducation WavefrontJoshua PearceMichiganMichigan Technological Universityopen-source domainOpenSCADoptical componentsoptical experimentationopticsRepRap 3-D printersResearch & Technology

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