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Return on investment for open source scientific hardware development

  1. J. M. Pearce
  1. Department of Materials Science & Engineering and Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University, 601 M&M Building, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49931-1295, USA;
  1. Email: pearce{at}


The availability of free and open source hardware designs that can be replicated with low-cost 3D printers provides large values to scientists who need highly-customized low-volume production scientific equipment. Digital manufacturing technologies have only recently become widespread and the return on investment (ROI) was not clear, so funding for open hardware development was historically sparse. This paper clarifies a method for determining an ROI for the development of scientific free and open source hardware (FOSH). By using an open source hardware design that can be manufactured digitally, the relatively minor development costs result in enormous ROIs for the scientific community. A case study is presented of a syringe pump released under open license, which results in ROIs for funders ranging from hundreds to thousands of percent after only a few months. It is clear that policies encouraging FOSH scientific hardware development should be adopted by organizations interested in maximizing return on public investments for science.

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This Article

  1. Science and Public Policy doi: 10.1093/scipol/scv034
  1. All Versions of this Article:
    1. scv034v1
    2. 43/2/192 most recent



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