Return on Investment for Open Source Hardware Development

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The availability of free and open source hardware designs that can be replicated with low-cost 3-D printers provide large values to scientists that 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 FOSH scientific hardware development. By using 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 an syringe pump released under open-licenses, which results in ROIs for funders ranging from 100s to 1,000s of percent after only a few months. It is clear that policies encouraging free and open source scientific hardware development should be made by organizations interested in maximizing return on public investments for science.

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