Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

A portable biological manufacturing platform could create a new path for manufacturing innovation.

News of the world’s latest biotechnology might alarmingly appear to usher in A Brave New World of genetic engineering, but there’s also great promise within the field that could help boost U.S. manufacturing.

Launched by two University of Pennsylvania academics to “digitize biology,” the startup Biorealize applies the same ease of use that has made 3-D printing so successful to biological manufacturing, also known as biofabrication or biomanufacturing.

Biorealize’s Microbial Design Suite, B|Reactor, allows users to custom-engineer their own biologically active products such as biodegradable packaging and “living” clothing in addition to applications in the food and beverages industry.

All within a machine roughly the size of large coffeemaker, users can heat, cool, agitate and monitor microorganism growth for less than $2,000, demystifying the biological process and allowing companies to standardize biofabrication for mass manufacturing.

Biomanufacturing could offer a means of localizing the manufacturing process while promising a wealth of opportunities for innovation, as Biorealize Chief Design and Technology Officer Orkan Telhan comments in an article for The Daily Pennsylvanian:

“‘Right now, there are a couple of problems with manufacturing: centralized, highly dependent on petrochemicals, and it's done other places than here,’ he said. ‘Biofabrication addresses all of them.’”

In April 2018, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Design Lab and PUMA partnered with Biorealize to engineer biologically active wearables designed to enhance athletic performance. Among the product prototypes are Carbon Eaters, self-adhesive buttons that integrate a type of algae that responds to carbon dioxide in the environment, indicating air quality by changing color.

However, Telhan and Biorealize Chief Executive Officer Karen Hogan hope to democratize the biomanufacturing process and free users to make any space a mini-factory, opening doors for new manufacturers in the domestic economy as noted in Penn Today.

“‘Initially, buyers will be those who are professionals who are selling something to customers that need to do it better, faster, and have better quality control,’ Hogan says. But, down the road, Telhan notes the reactor’s big-time potential of being in every design studio, every hospital, and even every kitchen.”

Though currently in beta testing in the Philadelphia area, the reactor is available for pre-order and will be manufactured for distribution in early 2019.