An orbital shaker is used in many labs for agitating cell cultures, mixing, and other applications. While a basic orbital shaker can be purchased for under $500, this still may be beyond the budgets of many. This is especially true if you require multiple shakers for your lab. Another reason you may want to save on costs is if you only need a shaker for a short period of time.
If you’re willing to get creative, it’s actually quite feasible to build your own DIY orbital shaker. This age of information-sharing has sparked a movement of open source lab equipment and you can find easy-to-follow instructions for building a range of tools, from magnetic stirrers to rotovaps. Of course, you won’t get the same performance and durability as you would with professional-grade equipment, but a home-made orbital shaker may suffice for many applications. You could even pair your shaker with a DIY lab incubator if you require heat.
Options for building an orbital shaker are not difficult to find. And while many designs require the use of a 3D printer, these are becoming increasingly accessible through libraries and other public programs.
Below, we review several sets of instructions for building your own shaker for a fraction of the cost of purchasing new equipment.
This first example is actually a linear shaker, but it’s probably the most simple design, particularly as it doesn’t require the use of 3D printed parts as many other instructables do.
This innovative solution uses an old CD-ROM drive to provide the motion of the unit. Here are the parts required:
- CD-ROM drive and enclosure
- Wires rated for 12V at 1A (various colors)
- Single Pole-Single Throw (SPST)
- Double Pole-Double Throw (DPDT)
- Wall Wart DC power supply (the author used a 5 VDC 0.5A supply with a USB adaptor)
- Several salvaged plastic parts
Tools required include a soldering iron, screwdrivers, a hot glue gun, and a drill with a small bit.
Rather than use a complex integrated circuit to create the back and forth motion of the shaker, the creator uses the mechanical motion of the CD-ROM tray to flip a switch as it moves. This switches the polarity of the motor and causes it to change directions.
This is the most simplistic and inexpensive design we came across, but has the obvious drawback of not providing the orbital motion that’s optimal for many applications.
2. Jordan Miller (Thingiverse)
This model has a very different design to standard shakers, and was created with mammalian cell and tissue cultures in mind. Vessels holding cultures are enclosed in a plastic casing. This is attached to a platform which is in turn connected to a motor. Rubber tubing smoothes out the motion and dampens the vibration from the motor.
There are just a couple of 3D printed parts used here, with the remaining components easily sourced from a hardware store. The cost breakdown for this shaker, according to the creator, was $141.50. That said, this instructable was posted in 2010, so you can expect prices to have increased since then. Additional units were added at a cost of around $60 each. You could cut the cost of additional shakers if you’re willing to run all units off the same motor. However, this would mean that you can’t have plates running at different speeds.
A big pro of this model is that it is specifically designed not to create heat. This means that multiple units can be used inside an incubator without affecting the temperature, an important consideration when dealing with cell cultures and other temperature-sensitive samples.
If you have easy access to a 3D printer, or are willing to use a printing service for the required components, this could be a great route to take. This design utilizes several 3D-printed parts, the blueprints for which can be found here. One of the benefits of this is that you can create a very robust and professional-looking orbital shaker.
The creators of this unit have also gone for a professional approach for the internal components. This does mean spending a fair amount for all the parts, but the overall cost isn’t too bad. The total for the electrical components as listed is just under $90. There are also some simple hardware items (screws, nuts, and bearings) you’ll need to acquire, along with use of a soldering iron.
A major bonus of this design is it offers adjustable speed courtesy of the potentiometer. What’s more, a micro USB port means you can program the unit. While this is one of the more involved and pricey options, you’ll likely end up with a unit that runs well and could last you a long time.
4. Applied Technology Lab (Thingiverse)
This is another design that requires the use of 3D-printed parts to create an aesthetically appealing yet highly functional unit. A potentiometer allows for speed adjustment. The electrical wiring is a little more involved than that of some other models, so that’s something to bear in mind.
This shaker remains a work in progress; the creators continue to tweak the design to make improvements. The latest version employs a rail system to help secure vessels onto the platform. 3D printing files for alternative platforms are available, including one that allows users to thread straps onto the platform for tying down containers.