How Space Biotech Firm Yuri is Using 3D Printing for Microgravity Biological Experiments


by Sam Davies

2 April 2024



Space biotech company Yuri has developed a modular 3D printed fluidic system for biological experiments in microgravity.

The fluidic system is driven by a bi-directional peristaltic pump that is run on a pre-programmed timeline and encased in an aluminium case measuring 40 x 40 x 80 mm along with the pump and electronic components. Each ScienceShell is composed of four 3D printed modules: a fluid storage module (or tank), a culture chamber module (where the biological experiment is performed), a fluidic chip module for fluid management and mechanical and fluidic interface between all other modules, and a pump module.

Together, this assembly of components is called a ScienceShell. A total of 38 ScienceShells are housed in a ScienceTaxi – a commercial, fully autonomous incubator for microgravity research of biological samples.

Yuri is a pioneering firm in the biotech field, leveraging the unique microgravity of space to design and produce top-notch biotech creations. Through the development of modular bioreactors and incubators for cell structures and protein crystals, it prepares them for scientists across the globe. Its workforce includes over 30 space engineers and biologists, and in its history, has collaborated on over 20 payloads for the International Space Station, partnering with notable entities such as NASA, ESA, GSK, and Charité Berlin.

The advent of 3D printing has elevated Yuri’s capabilities, particularly with its ScienceShell fluidic systems. The technology permits greater complexity and precision in designs, enabling intricate internal channels that effectively distribute fluids from the tank to the culture chamber. Additionally, 3D printing empowers Yuri to tailor modules to client specifications and shrink the fluidic system’s scope. This reduces the system’s size allows for a larger capacity in the ScienceTaxi, enabling simultaneous hosting of several companies’ ScienceShells or facilitating larger sample sizes to boost the rigor of their respective experiments.

ScienceShells are crafted utilizing the Formlabs PreForm platform. This platform is praised by Yuri for its robust process visibility and traceability of changes, while remaining user-friendly. All four modules are then printed on the Formlabs Form 3B+, using the BioMed Clear Resin material – a choice based on the stereolithography process’s proven ability to produce highly intricate and detailed designs. Furthermore, the technology’s chemical bonding of layers enhances isotropy and mechanical stability, while smooth finishes typically remove the necessity for additional sanding.

Though sanding isn’t always necessary after printing, all parts are immersed in an isopropanol solution to rid uncured resin from cavities and internal channels. Subsequently, ultraviolet radiation is harnessed for the curing step to maximize the mechanical properties. Any remaining marks or bumps following the removal of supports are then smoothed with sandpaper.

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Later, 3D scanning and caliper measurements are used to evaluate geometric accuracy, and x-ray computed tomography helps to identify any internal defects.

Leveraging additive manufacturing, Yuri has landed on a manufacturing technique that can cater for its low volume production runs. As each ScienceTaxi carries 38 customizable ScienceShells, Yuri would not be able to benefit from the low costs of traditional mass production, but with AM it can offer a flat rate per unit – helping to lower prices regardless of how highly customized the internal design is. Qualification and acceptance tests of the 3D printed ScienceShell components are said to be similar to the cost of traditionally manufactured counterparts.

The company has also achieved a shorter time-to-science by four times – with it taking less than 12 months to get from contract signature to launch – when compared to similar products manufactured with traditional techniques. It also takes just a matter of weeks for users to customise, prototype and test their ScienceShells.

A shortened supply chain has also been highlighted as a key benefit of using in-house 3D printing, with costs and lead time reduce, traceability and quality assurance made easier, and the impact on the environment lessened. A reduction in material waste also helps to this end, though Yuri says it cannot accurately assess energy consumption compared to other manufacturing methods because the consumption of energy in additive manufacturing ‘depends on changes in part orientation, position in the build chamber, and manufacturing parameters.’

Moving forward, Yuri expects to further optimise the 3D printed fluidic system, develop new experiments modules, and carry out a further study of part orientation, part location in the printing tray, and machine parameters in a bid to enhance building time and energy consumption.

by Sam Davies

2 April 2024


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