Microfluidics delivers particle-mixing technology to more markets

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NEWTON, Mass., Nov. 17, 2004 – In 1983, Irwin Gruverman launched Microfluidics Corp. with dreams of making drug-delivery technology for the pharmaceutical industry. As often happens to small businesses, things didn’t quite go as planned.

Gruverman’s particle-mixing technology won plaudits from ink manufacturers, eager to deliver finely blended inks as computer printers started filling homes and offices in the PC revolution. By 2001, Microfluidics had a solid reputation and $15 million in annual sales.

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Now, 21 years after he started, Gruverman wants to return to his original goal of the pharmaceutical industry. He sees the high-speed creation of nanoparticles as the way to get there.

Microfluidics took its flagship product, the Microfluidizer, and redesigned its reaction chamber to allow quick spurts of ingredients to slam into each other. Once broken into molecule-sized components, the reactor (called a Multiple-Stream Mixer Reactor, or MMR) recrystallizes the mixture until particles reach the desired size, and then it stops the process.

“We build it up from solution form, precipitate it up and then stop it at the size you want,” Gruverman explained. He called the technique “ultra turbulent reaction,” also known by the more poetic “collision chemistry.”

The MMR typically starts with crystals or other particles 1 to 100 microns in size; at the end of the process, the mixture is full of particles 50 to 200 nanometers large. At 200 nanometers or less, they are small enough to be absorbed directly through the skin, a long-cherished method to deliver drugs more rapidly than by injections or pill.

Gruverman said it is a principal problem of pharmaceutical research: scientists perfect active ingredients in the lab “and nobody tries to control the size, and then they worry about how to get it into the body.” Such small particles could open the door to lipid-soluble drugs, which currently are difficult to use because today’s large ingredients cannot dissolve in water-based blood. Other markets exist as well, such as abrasives or semiconductor coatings, where uniformity of particle size and density is crucial for nanoscale features or layering.

One potential competitor will be Five Star Technologies Inc. of Cleveland, which raised $4.5 million of venture capital last fall to expand its own nanoparticle mixing system. Called control-flow cavitation, the technology makes and collapses vapor-bubbles in liquid, where the force of the mini-explosion creates the desired nanoparticles.

Five Star first pushed into nanoparticle dispersions in 1999 and has been selling finished mixtures to customers since 2002, according to CEO James Mazzella. (Unlike Microfluidics, the 16-person company does not sell mixing equipment.) Five Star typically starts with nanoparticles 5 to 50 nanometers small, and uses cavitation to mash them into larger droplets 50 to several hundred nanometers in size.

“The smallest is not necessarily the best,” Mazzella said. “There is usually an optimal size, and the control to reach that optimal size is very important.”

Gruverman plans to lean on sales of its Microfluidizer, which have gone from $6-million annually in the mid-1990s, to $12 million this year, to fund the introduction of MMR. Microfluidics has introduced a lab-sized model to potential customers this year, and plans to deliver production-scale units in 2005.

The company did see total revenue fall 33-percent last year as it sold off a faltering mechanical-mixer division, but Gruverman said he now expects revenues from the Microfluidizer to rise 15 to 20 percent annually and turn an operating profit.

“We have more than enough cash-flow to develop the MMR,” he added.


Microfluidics Corp.


30 Ossipee Road

Newton, Mass. 02464-9101


Microfluidics is a wholly owned subsidiary of MFIC Corporation [OTC: MFIC], with which it is co-located. The parent company, founded in 1983, initially targeted drug delivery technology before moving toward servicing ink manufacturers. Based on the momentum of their MMR product, as well as the successful sell-off of its Morehouse-COWLES mechanical-mixing division, Microfluidics executives are re-examining possibilities in drug delivery, chemical and semiconductor markets.

Industries potentially served

  • Biotech, life sciences
  • Chemicals
  • Cosmetics, personal products
  • Food, food service

Selected small tech-related products and services

The company’s core Microfluidizer technology involves high-pressure fluid processing that reduces particle size to as small as 50 nanometers in diameter.

Key capital equipment products based on this technology include:

  • MMR Multiple Stream Mixer Reactor, used for optimizing chemical reactions with a high level of particle size control;
  • Laboratory production processors and homogenizers (9 products); and
  • Pilot, scale-up production processors (4 products).




  • Irwin Gruverman, founder, chairman and CEO
  • Robert Bruno: president and COO
  • Jack Swig: vice president, corporate development

Selected competitors

Barriers to market

Microfluidics is well positioned to serve multiple markets, many clamoring for greater control of particle size during nanomaterials processing. The company, however, will be competing not only with other capital equipment makers, but also with nanomaterials manufacturers (such as Five Star) who can offer clients a similar product using their own in-house equipment.


Research by Gretchen McNeely


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