Very often, manufactures need to create a very small number of microfluidic devices, and traditional methods simply don’t meet the need for short concept-to-chip times. In addition, many users require pumping fluids at pressures of up to many bar, and traditional 3D printers are not able to create devices that seal at such pressures.
“3D printers have existed for a long time, but to date there are no options that address the needs of the community of users that use fluids inside their 3D printed devices,” according to Dr. Omar Jina, Chief Commercial Officer for UK-based Dolomite Microfluidics. “Rapid prototyping of microfluidic devices in a one-step manufacturing process is a significant advancement for the industries that require these devices.”
Dolomite Microfluidics has created the first fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D printer that allows virtually anyone to make rapid prototypes of fluidically sealed devices using biocompatible cyclic olefin copolymer (COC). The solution is the only 3D printer to use COC thanks to research and development efforts by Blacktrace Holdings Ltd., which enabled the in-house manufacturing of the COC polymer reel. The reel holds 60 m of material with a disposable nozzle that is changed for every reel, and can be replaced in seconds.
The materials available to use with previous types of 3D printers are inappropriate for microfluidics applications since, unlike COC, they are chemically non-compatible, non-transparent and non-biocompatible.
“Fabrication techniques in the fluidic/microfluidic industry are too slow and expensive for a prototyping approach,” Dr. Jina told Design News . “There is a clear market need for a device able to fabricate prototypes in an efficient, cost-effective manner. Such a device would undoubtedly untangle the route to market in the milli- and micro- fluidic industry.”
Structures can be of any shape or geometry, and are produced from a 3D CAD model. (It’s compatible with any CAD software able to export a .stl file.) Users can design their own devices and upload them to the printer via USB, or choose designs from the printer’s library. Customers that choose the latter option can have their first printed device within one hour from receiving the unit, though most commercial customers will ultimately use the printer to create custom-made micro- and milli-fluidic devices.
The evolving field of microfluidics has strong commercial potential, particularly for analytical applications such as biochemical analysis, biosensors, and biochemical assay development. Some chemical synthesis applications also require microfluidics for sample handling, treatment, or readout.
Traditional methods of creating microfluidic structures include injection molding, micro milling and bonding, and 3D printing. For the latter, stereolithography (SLA) printers and selective laser sintering (SLS) printers have been used to produce microdevices, but they do so in a three-step process that involves printing two individual parts, removing the support material, and bonding them. Injection molding is a two-step process that often takes weeks from design to prototype production…not very convenient for an application that requires rapid prototyping
The printer, which has a very small print bed, is particularly suited for the creation of any milli- or micro- fluidic structure requiring internal fluidically sealed