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Fast Prototyping of Fluidic Devices Using Fluidic Factory 3D Printer

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Quick fabrication of microfluidic devices has always been challenging: existing fabrication methods for microfluidic devices such as injection moulding, micromilling and bonding involve long and costly fabrication processes. 3D printers using SLA and SLS methods on the other hand are not able to print embedded microchannels in a single step, hence leading to relatively long fabrication times, high costs as well as limitations to material selection. Other FDM printers have a critical limitation in the milli- and micro- fluidic industry: structures created with such devices inevitably leak when trying to contain fluid. 

To address these challenges, Dolomite Microfluidics recently introduced Fluidic Factory 3D printer, capable of fabrication of fluidically sealed devices in just minutes. Furthermore, the printer uses COC – and FDA approved, transparent, robust polymer suitable for biological applications.

We spoke to Mark Gilligan, CEO of Dolomite Microfluidics to discuss the benefits of the printer.

JR: Why is the Fluidic Factory 3d printer so unique?

MG: Fluidic Factory is the only platform in the 3D printing industry able to 3D print with COC. COC is FDA approved material for implantables, and is often the material of choice of diagnostic device developers. It is also suitable for biological applications and features great transparency as well as very low water absorption. 

The 3D printer has been designed specifically for fluidic sealing in one step. 

The intelligent software analyses the 3D geometry of the device to be printed and identifies the internal voids and surfaces. It then creates print paths from the inside of the device outwards and the print head deposits filaments in a continuous, leak-proof manner. 

The FDM (fluid deposition modelling) method melts the polymer at high temperatures and ejects it through the nozzle to the print bed, which then solidifies at temperatures below 75°C.

The printer nozzle head is extremely accurate in its movement and allows precise features to be printed (with an accuracy of less than 1 µm). The nozzle is also disposable, which ensures that printing quality is preserved.


JR: What benefits does Fluidic Factory have when compared to traditional FDM printers?

MG: Many traditional FDM printers deposit the molten polymer beads in circular cross sections, which results in leak paths and, consequently, an inadequately sealed device. Fluidic Factory is unique in dispensing a ‘squashed’ section bead which eliminates these leak paths, creating a reliably sealed device that will contain any fluids passed through it.


JR The printer has a very small footprint, but how easy it is to set up and use? 

MG: Fluidic Factory is a true out of the box solution – get started in just a few minutes! As the footprint is very small, it can be used either in an office or a lab and can be easily transported. 

We have designed the printer so it really is easy to use with a very simple workflow. Fluidic Factory enables the user to have ultimate design creativity by letting them design a device using virtually any CAD software on their PC. Design files are saved as .stl files, which carry information about the surfaces of the model which then will be uploaded to the Fluidic Factory Software. The Software creates a graphic illustration of the device and calculated optimum print paths to ensure fluidic sealing. Once the file is ready – it can be transferred to Fluidic Factory via a USB drive. 

The design can be then selected for print using the touch screen. Once printing has started, the screen displays the time left to print, real-time status and filament use, with an auto-alert when the COC is running low. The polymer reel contains 60 m of polymer and can be changed in seconds. 

When printing has finished, Fluidic Factory will indicate this, which allows the user to remove the print tray and immediately insert another one to begin printing a new device whilst waiting for the completed one to cool down off the machine.

JR: What sort of devices can I create using Fluidic Factory 3D printer?

MG: A very wide range! Unique devices such as 3 dimensional mixers, non-rectangular chips, unique channel geometries and features not possible using etching, embossing, moulding or machining can be created using Fluidic Factory. Circular, triangular or rectangular channel geometries can be printed (dependant on the mode of printing) and other cross-sections are also possible. By following some simple rules to optimize your design, the possibilities to create unique fluidically sealed devices quickly and in a cost effective way are endless!

JR: Will Fluidic Factory evolve to enable future functionality?

MG: Yes! Fluidic Factory features a replaceable head and bed and upgradeable software to enable future functionality e.g. on-line chip design files shop, printing alternative polymers high definition printing, micromilling, fluid dispensing and bio-printing.

JR: What else should I know about Fluidic Factory?

MG: We believe Fluidic Factory 3D printer is the future of fast prototyping for micro-and milli fluidic industry and with additional future functionality, a cost-effective, efficient and reliable alternative to traditional microfluidic prototyping alternatives. 

Find out more about the capabilities of the Fluidic Factory: http://www.dolomite-microfluidics.co.uk/webshop/fluidic_factory

Mark Gilligan was speaking to Jack Rudd, Editor for Technology Networks.