The bioprinter used in this work was an adaptation of an Atom Proton 3D printer. (Atom 3D, Taipei, Taiwán) This 3D printer was selected because two main reasons, (I) it is a low-cost open-source 3D printer and (II) it has a different X axis construction. The differences between this Atom Proton and the Prusa type 3D printer (Figure 1) made the Atom Proton be the best choice to adapt a new extruder design and install it inside the pre-incubator. The design, components, construction and PID controller of the pre-incubator were detailed in a previous work [18] and shown in Figure 1a,b.

Bioprinter with pre-incubator system. (a) lateral view with the electronic (green), the climatic generator (blue) and the pre-incubator zone (red), (b) perspective view with the designed extruder head and (c) Atom Proton 3D printer extruder head.

The new extruder head takes advantage of the location of the extruder motor and its power transmission. Figure 2a,b shows the two main parts of the new extruder design, the pusher block (white and grey parts) and the syringe holder (black parts). The piston-driven pusher block is formed by a rack and pinion system where the pinion is moved by the extruder motor causing the rack to move linearly up and down extruding the bioink. The syringe holder was a rapid interchangeable tool with non-contacts electronic pins to connect the 5 mL syringe heat block (100 kΩ thermistor and two flexible resistors) to the Atom Proton electronics. The bioink is placed in a 5 mL syringe with a specially designed plug to achieve uniform push. Figure 2d–f shows the operation of the rapid interchangeable tool loading a 5 mL syringe. Additionally, the specially designed plug and the proposed FDM 3D printing standard nozzle is shown in Figure 2e.

Designed extruder-head with rapid interchangeable syringe system. (a) exploit view of the system’s components, (b) full assembled system with indication of the pusher block and the syringe holder and (c) image of the prototype of the extrusion-head system. (df) operation of the quick interchangeable tool of a 5 mL syringe.

The firmware of the bioprinter was adapted from the original Atom Proton Marlin modifying the range of the axis, maximum and minimum operating temperatures and the axis steps per unit. Additionally, the bioprinter and the atmospheric enclosure were controlled by a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B (V3 Model B, Raspberry Pi Foundation, Cambridge, UK) through a custom-made interface similar to Repetier Host software.

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