Open Source Orbital Shaker

by jmil, published

Open Source Orbital Shaker by jmil Dec 5, 2010


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Here is my entry to the Open Call for Open Science Equipment Contest, detailed here:

Start with the video to see what this is all about:

Download the .zip file to get everything, or get the individual pieces you want.

This is an open-source orbital shaker for mammalian cell and tissue culture and for bench-top science. The orbital shaker fits inside a standard 37 ºC/5% CO2 cell incubator and puts out no heat so you can load up the incubator full of these things. We have used them for 2 weeks now and the design is very simple, inexpensive, and scaleable. Our cells are growing happily in these shakers.

Orbital shakers are typically ~$1,500 and even more expensive if you need one that is designed for a cell incubator so that it will not put out any heat (incubators only have heating and not cooling functions, so if equipment puts out too much heat it will kill all the cells in the incubator).

To accomplish this goal I used an arduino microcontroller, Pololu stepper motor controller, and an inexpensive stepper motor. A DC motor could have been used but it is very difficult to control the rotational speed with high accuracy since the DC motor rotation speed varies based on load. Instead I used a $10 stepper motor and a pololu stepper motor controller at 1/16th stepping.

I used a NEMA 17 motor. Lin Engineering 4218L-01-11 works very well. It can do 75 oz-in and has lots of torque so it can be run at 1/16th stepping and at low current without generating any heat.

I used 3D printed parts I designed and printed with a MakerBot to make the off-axis motor connector and bearing plate holder.

Nuts and bolts are used to finish the design.

Stepper motors are known to put out enormous vibrations, so part of the design also required rubber tubing stand-offs which smooth out the motion of the orbital shaker and also dampen all of the motor vibration.

Coding the stepper motor rotational speed was straightforward once we calibrated the correct delay time between motor steps. We typically run the shakers at 2 Hz (2 revolutions per second) but can easily get anywhere from 0.2-5 Hz with the current setup.

Full sources are available on Thingiverse, posted today.

If you want to buy a commercially available orbital shaker you're going to spend ~$1500.00 USD.

Cost Breakdown for Open Source Orbital Shaker:
First shaker minimum requirements to get started:
ATX Power Supply $30
Arduino $30
USB plug and long cable $20
Motor $10
Bearing $1
Tubing $1
Motor controller $40
Wire $4
Nuts and Bolts $5
3D printed parts $0.50
Total: $141.50

Additional shakers, incremental requirements:
Motor $10
Bearing $1
Tubing $1
Motor controller $40
Wire $4
Nuts and Bolts $5
3D printed parts $0.50
Total Incremental cost for each additional shaker: $61.50

Currently we have 4 shakers being driven concurrently with this setup (one set of electronics).

And here (attached) is a video of them working in our incubator!

My design would benefit from winning this contest by being able to design a lasercut case for the electronics and make a kit that could be purchased directly by customers. I would make the 3D printed parts lasercut instead to make production easier.

All of these parts are sourceable from SparkFun and Ponoko. The motor controller I used is not from SparkFun but SparkFun has many that would work for this application, or they may be willing to sell the controller that I am using (from www.JohnYang.com). John Yang's controller is available from MakerGear.com.

This orbital shaker is likely to have numerous applications in bench-top science in addition to in vitro cell culture.


Print one PlateSlab and one MotorShaftHolder
Get some tubing. The tubing for the motor shaft holder has to be 8 mm OD (outer diameter) to exactly fit inside the 608 skate bearing.

Screw 50 mm M3 socket cap bolt fixed in place on the motor shaft holder.
Then put Small piece tubing on motor shaft (will prevent holder from sliding down the motor shaft). Then put on motor shaft holder. Then put more tubing on the socket cap of the 50 mm bolt. The tubing dampens the vibrations from the motor.

To get the bearing into the plate slab you may want to hold it in a flame for a while to heat it up. Then it will melt in and get a really nice press-fit.

Use small M3 socket cap bolts in the motor housing. 8-12 mm work well. You want the socket caps to stick up above the motor housing so that the tubing can grip it easily.

Use small M3 socket cap bolts in the PlateSlab. 12 mm work well here also. Connect all tubing.

Wire up the motor. Program the arduino (see the .pde, attached to this thing). Plug everything in. Turn on the ATX power supply. The motors will slowly accelerate during the first rotation to get up to full speed (so you don't spill cell media everywhere). The current .pde drives the 1/16th stepped motors at 2 Hz (2 revolutions per second).

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Have you considered using cheaper stepper drivers like the A49xx or DRV8825?

Hello; so I'm currently working on modifying this design for a de-airating device, and was just wondering if there was any particular reason you guys chose to put the tubing the way you did? Like was it the most effective positioning to have it rotate from that manner?

This is great! You should consider submitting this to Tekla Labs BuildMyLab Competition: http://instructables.com/contest/buildmylabinstructables.com/contest/buil...

Wow that is very nice thinking. Grats!

Hey there nice design,

I'm a biology student from the Philippines, I and my groupmates are doing our undergraduate thesis and we included an orbital shaker to our methodology... We were ignorant back then that we did not know it costs a load of money just to RENT one.

So we're considering on building one. The thing is,
we're gonna mount a lot of conical flasks... numbering at least (30) 250ml erlenmeyer flasks.

So you think a large scale version of this is feasible?
4x4 ft or 5x5 ft?

When I try to imagine it, won't a bigger version lead to a greater and more dangerous "tilting" of the mount? Or are my eyes
just fooling me.

interesting idea! yeah i think it is feasible... you probably want 1 large motor and a level shaking instead of orbital shaking. Orbital shaking of that large a volume will be very top-heavy relative to the motor itself (that much liquid will surely weigh more than the motor itself).

Let me know how it goes or if you'd like me to take a look at your design just post a link to it back here in a comment. Would be great to see your design as a work-in-progress up on thingiverse!

Actually, I was hoping if you or the chaps here could have an idea how to make it level-shaking. So far your design is the only one we'd found, and I was wondering if it'll only take a few modifications to make the thing level instead of orbital.

This is beyond my expertise as a biology student. So at the moment, I'll approach our College of Engineering or Physics professors if they'd have some ideas to modify it.

This is awesome. Has someone tried using it for liquid in vitro plant shoot cultures yet?

interesting application! i don't know that area much... do you have to shake plant cultures to keep them alive? This should work fine for that application (if the plant shoots are small).

Do you think it would be difficult to modify this into a "shaker table" model like the one pictured here (or like MtDon mentioned):


I suppose the same electronics but a bigger single motor might work.

That is pure genius showing ingenuity. What an elegant solution.

Very cool.

But, do you need individual motors for each container?. Can you use a single motor to shake one larger platform on which you could set the individual containers? The platform would, of course, need a way to attach the containers to it.

that design would certainly work too. We did it this way because we want the ability to have each plate shaking at a different speed. So 1 motor per plate is the absolutely least expensive and simplest way to do that.

That makes sense.


Cool design!

I am interested to make suach a shaker.

Is it possible to make it work on batteries, since we dont have a plug inside the

cell culture incubator for the power supply?

Thanks a lot in advance,
Best wishes

just run the motor connectors out of the incubator. that's what we do!

Very awesome stuff! Really inspired to see this design in action, hope to see them on Ponoko soon!

Thanks Cathal, I was definitely inspired by all your open source hardware projects!