Good Products are Built on Good Science and Engineering

We offer a variety of resources to describe and demonstrate the science and engineering of microfluidic devices.

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Developing Diagnostic Products Using Polymer Laminate Technology

This paper provides an overview of the platform that is typified by the use a rapid prototyping platform that incorporates a variety of materials to create functional and robust devices. The processes do not require tooling, and can be scaled for high volume roll to roll manufacture. Some case studies are explored.

ALine has developed robust cutting, cleaning, and assembly processes that produce high quality functional devices with a turnaround time of one week or less.

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Polymer Laminate Cell Culture Card Supports NASA’s Astrobionics Program

An early successful application of the fabrication platform was demonstrated with the NASA Astrobionics program. Our approach enabled the successful execution of an autonomous experiment in near earth orbit, demonstrating the robustness of our fabrication technology.

On board liquid storage for months, the mechanical stresses of launch, and fluid control in zero gravity. Even under these extreme conditions, our devices performed flawlessly.

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Modular Designs for Reproducible Performance of On-Board Pumps

Understanding the effects of stack tolerances is important for establishing design rules to ensure optimal performance over a wide range of conditions.

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It's a Materials World, and I'm a Materials Girl

What happens between a surface and a fluid stream can lead to foul play. The complex physics and chemistry of surfaces is an important consideration in any product development, and is particularly important for microfluidic systems where the high surface area to volume ‘concentrates’ the effect of the surface. The choice of materials should be taken into consideration during the early design of microfluidic devices to enable applications including cell culture, immunoassays, or nucleic acid amplification.

With sophisticated workflows for immuno-analysis, materials impact assay sensitivity, limit of detection,
fluid circuit functional performance, and shelf-life. This is because…

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Challenges in Microfluidic Product Development

There are two aspects to consider in microfluidic device design; the surface properties of the material being used and its impact on the physics of fluid movement, and the method of manufacture which influences the geometric features available. If sharp corners are required for functional performance, end mills and micromachining may not be the right process for creating a molding tool, and injection molding itself may put further constraints on the geometry that can be realized in the device. While all the manufacturing methods used in MEMS are well understood and create exquisite precision, it is cost prohibitive unless the manufacturing volumes exceed the multiple millions.

Unlike bulk properties, surface properties vary along the length of a channel, and even small “bumps in the road” from particles or a region with a residue from manufacture can lead to unwanted air bubbles and incomplete filling, influencing the fluid behavior in unpredictable ways. Some of these effects can be mitigated with modifications of the liquid or post treatment of the channels to homogenize the surface properties. Yet none of these influences can be modeled and are critical in considering the choice of channel and feature geometry.

Further complicating the engineering, each method of manufacture has its own set of design rules which are driven by the tools and processes used in that manufacturing process.

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Microfluidic Product Design and Manufacturing Challenges

In microfluidic product design there manufacturing considerations that impact the ability to go from concept to a functional device with the expected performance. In some microfluidic designs, the geometry of the channel, the sharpness of features, and the materials and method of manufacture all impact the device performance. This is particularly true for generating droplets that are less than 100 microns in diameter, where the size and sharpness of the nozzle is important for consistent droplet sizes. For acoustic microfluidics, the sharpness of corner features enhances the acoustic forces that create fluid flow and separations in the device.

However, there are many applications for which the geometry of the channels is not important for the performance of the device, but provides a means for transporting and combining fluids to execute a workflow. An example of this would be the execution of a standard sandwich immunoassay where sample, detection antibodies, washes and readout reagents are combined, mixed, and delivered sequentially to a detection region where a capture antibody is bound to a surface.

One could think of these two different design regimes in microfluidics as the very small features that are critical for function being similar to microprocessors in an integrated circuit, while the latter, which involves toggling fluids around in a circuit, and is more akin to printed circuit boards that often support the function of integrated circuits. In fact, the equations used to describe pressure drops in fluid circuits are parallel to the resistance in electronic circuit boards.

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From Schematic to Functional Microfluidic Device

Previously I’ve described two regimes in the design and manufacture of microfluidic devices; fluid circuits (FC) and integrated fluidic circuits (IFC). The former being similar to printed circuit boards (PCB) in their function, while the later are similar to integrated circuit processors (ICP) in their specialized functions and the dependence of their function on specific geometries and surface properties. Microfluidic FCs perform a variety of functions that rely less on surface properties and more on the control of pressure drops in the system.  As with PCBs in which one applies an electric potential to manage the bulk flow of electrons through the circuit, we use a pressure potential to control fluid in the circuit.

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Outsourcing Point of Care Diagnostic Development

The demand for rapid diagnostic analysis is putting pressure on companies to move testing out of central laboratories and into the point-of-care environment. According to Markets and Markets Inc.’s latest report, “This market (microfluidics) is mainly driven by the rising demand for point-of-care (POC) testing, increasing demand for microfluidic chip miniaturization as it offers lower testing time and improved portability, growing Asian market, rising incidences of lifestyle diseases, increasing R&D expenditure and healthcare spending, and growing stem cell and cancer research…In 2014, the in-vitro diagnostics application segment accounted for the largest share of the global microfluidics market.”

When testing is closer to the patient, turnaround time, sample touch time and logistics are all reduced. Rapid results improve patient care and outcomes, and reduce required blood and healthcare resources.

Hence, why has it taken so long for POC to be realized?

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Valve Performance and Operation

This recent paper details the use of different flexible membranes and their effect on valve performance. The use of Spike and Hold pneumatic actuation for long term valve actuation is also detailed.

This article requires a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in order to view. Please contact us to request the NDA.

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Metering and Mixing Evaluated in a Test Chip

In this paper we combine metering and mixing to demonstrate the effectiveness of a simple bellows to mix two fluid streams that are combined after being metered with on-board pumps.

This article requires a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in order to view. Please contact us to request the NDA.

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Effect of Channel Width on Air Bubbles and Strategies for Air Bubble Control

In this paper we evaluate the effect of channel width and height and describe optimal dimensions to minimize air bubble formation, as well as describing best strategies for metering and dispensing. We also describe strategies to mitigate air bubbles in our devices, especially during mixing.

This article requires a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in order to view. Please contact us to request the NDA.

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How to Design a Microfluidic Device - Part 1

To help folks who are simply users of microfluidics, yet are in charge of developing a microfluidic, we present here a four part series on the things one should consider before picking up the phone and talking to any of a number of service providers.

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How to Design a Microfluidic Device - Part 2

The second in a four-part series, titled “Think Modularly”, that discusses the considerations for integrating an assay into a microfluidic device. Meant for the non-microfluidics expert and biologists who are interested in understanding how to think about the development process.

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How to Design a Microfluidic - Part 3

In Part 3, the discussion shifts to our experience with a number of programs and clients, and how to meet programmatic needs while satisfying the need to address Design for Manufacture, and Scale-up for Development. A better title for this section is “Troubleshooting and Lessons Learned”.

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On-Board Valves in Microfluidics

What are On-Board Valves and how do they work?

On board valves provide control of the fluid circuit through the external application of pressure against a flexible material. The main advantages are the ability to add a lot of functions in a small area, making it compatible with small portable test platforms, and the ability to de-couple the electromechanical components from the fluids, enabling disposable fluidic devices in which the fluids never contact the electromechanical components.

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