3D printer component

Xbox hacked to create nanoscale 3D printer

Friday 12 Feb 21


Tien-Jen Chang
DTU Health Tech


En Te Hwu
Group leader, Associate Professor
DTU Health Tech
+45 53 81 52 66


PhD Student Tien-jen Chang and Associate Professor En Te Hwu are part of the IDUN center, headed by Professor Anja Boisen. Read more about IDUN here.
This development is funded by Villum Experiment (Grant No. 00023116), the Danish National Research Foundation (DNRF122), and Villum Foundation (Grant No. 9301).

Researchers from DTU Health Tech have repurposed an optical component from an Xbox gaming console to develop an affordable 3D printer that can print 3D objects with nano/microscale structures.

Using a component from a mass-produced, in this case a Microsoft Xbox 360, to replace conventional expensive optics in research equipment, lowers the threshold for more researchers to access micro/nanoscale 3D printing. The repurposed optical pick-up unit costs as little as 30 DKK, saving tens of thousands of DKK.


“With our 3D printer that can print micro and nanoscale 3D objects, we are able to go from tens of micrometers in printing resolution down to hundreds of nanometers without expensive specialized components. And we also end up with a simpler and more compact nanoscale 3D printer compared to other stereolithography systems,” PhD Student Tien-Jen Chang says.


Stereolithography is the technology behind this type of 3D printer, where 3D objects are printed layer by layer using photochemical processes by which light causes chemical monomers and oligomers to cross-link together to form polymers / 3D objects.


Various applications in the health sector

"In the end, our goal is to help patients experience better diagnostics and treatment"
Associate Professor En Te Hwu

The researchers behind these results see various applications for the technology in the health area. Associate Professor En Te Hwu explains: “We believe that this technology can impact different areas of health technology. The original goal for developing our own 3D printer was to be able to print cubic centimeter volume with micro/nanoscale resolution for our micro-container based drug delivery development. And we couldn’t find a 3D printer system on the market that could do this. So we had to make our own.”


Associate Professor En Te Hwu continues, “In addition to printing our microscale containers with a diameter of a human hair (100~300 micrometer) for more efficient oral drug delivery developments, this system can also be used to print painless microscale needles to be used on skin patches to speed up transdermal drug delivery developments. Another possibility is to use it for printing 3D structures for cell culture environment for more accurate ex-vivo drug testing studies. And a final example is to print biocompatible micro-devices with nanostructured surfaces that kill bacteria.”


The researchers envisage a great potential for commercialization of the technology, and they will work towards establishing a spin-out company within the next few years based on this research.


“In the end, our goal is to help patients experience better diagnostics and treatment, for example through more accurate medical diagnostics, more efficient oral drugs, and better skin patches”, Associate Professor En Te Hwu concludes.

These results are described in detail in the new scientific paper in Communications Physics.

Hardware hacking

Hacking consumer electronics and repurposing components to develop better and less costly research equipment is an interesting avenue towards utilizing technology that has already been developed and is readily available at a relatively low cost to build better research equipment faster.

Photo caption: Xbox 360 optical pick up unit (upper part) shining a blue laser on a substrate for micro/nanoscale 3D printing (lower part). Photo by Jesper Scheel.


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