This summer, bioprinting company nScrypt revealed an interesting partnership with the U.S. Military aimed at deploying a ruggedized version of its BioAssembly Tool (BAT) bioprinter to print samples in a forward-deployed desert environment. In July, the company also sent its bioprinter into space to be used aboard the ISS. Following the early successes of both initiatives, nScrypt has introduced the nRugged system—the first 3Dprinting/bioprinting platform built for harsh environments.
The nRugged is described by the Florida-based company as a ruggedized version of its digital manufacturing platform, Factory in a Tool, or FIT. The system can be configured for both 3D printing and bioprinting thanks to an automatic tool change capability.
The version launched by nScrypt features a carbon fiber exoskeleton and a heated print bed measuring 150 x 150. The printer itself has a build volume of up to 238 (X) x 173 (Y) x 152 (Z) mm, though nScrypt says the build size can be customized. The 3D printer can be fitted with up to four interchangeable tool heads for microdispensing, material extrusion, milling and polishing and pick-and-place functions.
Other optional features for the hybrid machine are a target view camera for microscopy and X-Y alignment, a process view camera for real-time video monitoring, a Keyence line scanner or point sensor and a four channel heater controller.
“nRugged is so much more than a 3D printer,” commented Dr. Ken Church, nScrypt’s CEO. “Because it is a version of our Factory in a Tool, it solves the problem of building a precision product, not just a part, and does it in harsh environments.
“For example, a complete electronic device or a bioactive bandage can be digitally manufactured in the same machine. The real advantage of this tough machine is mobility, rapid mobility, while maintaining precision. No crate, no riggers, no heavy equipment movers, no technicians to set it up and calibrate. Roll it into position, remove the top, plug it together, and start printing. Move it again and start printing right away. And again, with precision.”
If configured as a bioprinter, the ruggedized machine is capable of printing both biologics (a pharmaceutical product derived from biological sources) and non-biologics. Both of these functions have unlocked various bioprinting applications.
For instance, set up in a forward-deployed desert environment, the Austere BioAssembly Tool (ABAT) was recently used to print a scalpel handle and hemostat, bioactive bandages with a hydrogel layer embedded with antibiotics, a surgical model of a T9 vertebrae, and a bioprinted meniscus made of live mesenchymal stem/stromal cells and a hydrogel scaffold. These prints were all made in succession, utilizing the machine’s automatic tool change capability and broad material compatibility.
The nRugged 3D printer is not only designed for harsh environments, it is also built for easy use. In other words, setting up the printer requires little effort. Users simply roll the packing crate to where it is needed, remove the crate lid, plug the printer in to the battery case and electronics case and begin printing. According to Dr. Church, the 3D printer can even be used when moving—though perhaps with less effectiveness.
“Obviously this is not ideal, but the answer is yes,” he said about using the machine while it is moving. “The nRugged solves the problem of precision 3D printing or bioprinting in a harsh environment, like on a Navy ship in rough waters or on the back of a trailer.”
The new 3D printer by nScrypt, which is now available for sale, runs on 24-28VDC power or 100-240VAC power and can be operated for up to 48 hours using a solar-charged battery. The machine and its integral crate weigh about 220 pounds together, making it possible to be moved by 3-4 people and rolled by a single person. According to Dr. Church, the nScrypt team is hoping to actually roll the 3D printer into Formnext 2019.