Microfluidic devices (MFDs) are used in many healthcare, biological, and medical applications. They also have growing uses in environmental analysis and food and agriculture research. In addition, microfluidics is becoming increasingly important as pharmaceutical companies seek high-performance but cost-effective diagnostic techniques during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why Not Current Methods? Cost + Time + Restrictions
Today, building an microfluidic device by hand requires several hours of intensive labor and researchers want to reduce the time it takes to produce these devices.
Issues with current fabrication methods include:
- Laminating a microfluidic device is a multi-step process that involves cutting the desired microfluidic features into layers and then bonding these individual layers together to form one functioning device
- Injection molding can produce high volumes of LOCs for testing, but the tooling can be expensive and takes weeks or even months to arrive
- Soft lithography limits the ability to create complex 3D channels in microfluidics
- Designers want the ability to create channels with diameters less than 100 microns and with high aspect ratios
And while polymers are used in many microfluidic devices because of their good biochemical performance, low cost, and support for rapid fabrication, designers need application-specific polymers that resist high temperatures and are biocompatible.
Why Micro 3D Printing? Speed + Precision
3D printing can produce intricate parts, but not all 3D printers can create small components with fine features and tight tolerances at the required resolution and desired speed. Some current 3D printing platforms provide fast processing, but are limited to low-precision applications with inadequate surface finishes. Two-photon polymerization based direct laser writing (TPP-DLW) is ultra-precise, but it’s slow for microfluidic device designers who want to build MFDs more quickly.
Fortunately, BMF’s projection micro stereolithography (PμSL) technology:
- Increases design freedom and supports greater device complexity
- Causes the rapid photopolymerization of an entire layer of liquid polymer resin with a flash of ultraviolet (UV) light
- Supports continuous exposure for faster processing
- Allows designers to print 3D channels that are as small as 10 microns and that have high aspect ratios
- Supports the production of high precision micro-tooling for molding materials like polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), the most commonly used material in soft lithography
BMF’s UV-curable materials include acrylate-based resins that are biocompatible and high-temperature resistant. BMF offers an open material platform and is also working with third-party suppliers, universities, and OEMs to onboard materials that support specific application-based requirements for microfluidic devices.