AOIP increases research capability with 3D printing
3D printing for adaptive optics instruments
The AOIP recently acquired a new Master Graphics ProJet 3500 HD Max 3D printer, which is used to manufacture parts for its adaptive optics instruments. Previously, obtaining such parts would require weeks of effort, if not more. The ability to produce custom parts in house in only a day or two helps accelerate our ability to explore novel imaging modalities and to disseminate our technical advances. The purchase of the $120,000 printer was made possible through the combined support of our Core Grant for Vision Research from the National Eye Institute (P30 EY001931, PI: Joseph Carroll, PhD) and philanthropic contributions to the Department of Ophthalmology and the AOIP.
The 3D printing process takes an initial design concept and uses computer-assisted design (CAD) software to create a digital representation of the desired pieces. The AOIP installed two CAD workstations equipped with Inventor (Autodesk Inc) and SolidWorks (Dassault Systèmes SOLIDWORKS Corp) to support our 3D design needs. The designs are then sent to the 3D printer that builds the pieces by applying very fine droplets of a polymer in layers that can be as thin as 30 microns using advanced inkjet technology, originally developed for high-end photocopiers. The AOIP prints and installs these specialty parts for our Adaptive Optics Scanning Light Ophthalmoscopes (AOSLO), with Research Technologist Brian Higgins (pictured below) overseeing the entire process.
The future of 3D printing
3D printing allows not only for shorter production times, but also allows for exploring complex geometries with minimal personnel cost, even if they require multiple iterations. With this capability, we can be more adventurous and explore mechanical designs that are cost-prohibitive or just not possible with current machining techniques. "3D printing will continue to be a valuable part of the ongoing evolution of science and engineering in ophthalmic adaptive optics research," said Alfredo Dubra, PhD. In addition to supporting the AOIP, we have used the printer to make custom parts to support other Neuroscience research groups at MCW.