Production delays for microfluidic chips prototypes?

The challenge to develop microfluidic prototypes in short lead-time

I happened to be contacted by several industrial researchers who are working on the development of innovative production process thanks to microfluidic principles.

To develop the appropriate design for their application, they need to go through an iterative process. During this process, they need to create the first design, test it and improve it for further tests. This development process can be time-consuming, especially when production lead-time for each new design take weeks or even months. 

One solution consists in using soft lithography to produce a PDMS microfluidic chip. This is a well-known process to quickly create a prototype in the lab. However, this technology doesn't work when the researcher needs to use solvents, chemical or conditions that are not compatible with the PDMS. Even if the conditions and solvents are compatible, long-run experiments with PDMS can also be problematic. 

In these cases, more appropriate material is required and glass is often chosen. For this material, the manufacturing technology generally used is photolithography which is time-consuming. Hence, the production of one design can take several months. The development of a new microfluidic design will then be really long if it requires several iteration steps before obtaining the appropriate design.

In order to solve this issue, we investigate innovative manufacturing solutions for ceramic, glass or metal which are emerging and reaching maturity with the very high precision and surface roughness required for microfluidic applications.

What about you? Are you also facing this issue? Which strategy do you implement to accelerate the development process?

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