Dolomite achieves fabrication of large scale multi-layer microfluidic devices

August 5, 2008 — Royston based microfluidic company, Dolomite, has succeeded in the development and fabrication of large-scale multi-layer microfluidic devices also known as ‘lab on a chip.’ The company is currently in discussion with several international companies interested in the opportunities that this new microfluidic technology offers.

Microfluidics technology enables very small-scale fluid control and analysis, allowing instrument manufacturers to develop smaller, more cost-effective and more powerful systems. With lab-on-a-chip technology, entire complex chemical management and analysis systems are created in a microfluidic chip and interfaced with, for example, electronic and optical detection systems.

“Being able to design microfluidic devices in a multi-layer format gives us the freedom to make far more complex devices,” said Philip Holmewood, engineering manager. “At the moment we are working with three-layer devices, but already this offers the possibility to improve the performance of devices such as our ‘droplet generation’ chip and our ‘reactor’ chips. We now have the potential to create a chip that could produce 32,000 droplets per second.”

The fabrication processes used to create a microfluidic device have some similarity to those used in the electronics industry. The channels through which the fluids flow and interact are etched into materials such as glass or polymers using similar photolithography processes, for example. The patterned layers are then accurately aligned and fused together and drilled to provide microscopic ports through which the chemicals or gases can enter and leave the device.

“The big challenge with multi-layer development has been the requirement to ensure that the internal glass layers of the device do not suffer any marking while being processed,” said Philip. “In this respect the manufacturing process can be quite challenging. However, we feel confident that we now have the technology and processes in place to deliver the complexity and quality that this markets is moving towards.”

Dolomite was established with the assistance of £2m funding from the UK Department of Trade and Industry’s Micro and Nano Technology (MNT) Manufacturing Initiative; this allowed Dolomite to establish microfabrication facilities that include cleanrooms, precision glass processing facilities and applications laboratories. In addition to this, Dolomite has attracted engineering and scientific staff with strong backgrounds across the broad range of disciplines required for success in bringing microfluidics applications to the market, including chemistry, biotechnology, control system development, electronics, physics and instrument design and supply.

“Another exciting aspect of this development is that the specific benefits of microfluidics such as the accuracy and small size format can now be applied to production volumes for the first time,” said Philip. “We can ‘number up’ the processes in a chip, maybe even a hundred times. This will enable the chip to deliver production level volumes which are currently undertaken using more traditional batch chemistry processes that may be slower and less accurate.”


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