Royston based microfluidic company, Dolomite, has announced that they have recently succeeded in the development and fabrication of large-scale multi-layer microfluidic devices and that they are currently in discussion with several international companies interested in the exciting opportunities that this new microfluidic technology offers.
Dolomite has become a recognised world leader in the field of Microfluidics, a technology also known as ‘lab on a chip.’ It is an exciting new field of science and engineering that 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 or biological 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 Phil Homewood, Head of Engineering. “At the moment we are primarily working with 3-layer devices, but already this offers the possibility to massively improve the performance and throughput of our devices e.g. our ‘droplet generation’ chip and our ‘reactor’ chips. We now have the potential to create a chip that could produce in excess of 32,000 droplets per second. For industries such as drug discovery and drug development, this level of microfluidic technology is very exciting news.”
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 very 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 achieving viable yield during multilaminated fusing steps” said Phil. “In this respect the manufacturing process can be quite challenging. However, we now have the technology and processes in place to deliver the complexity and quality that this market 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 excellent microfabrication facilities that include cleanrooms, precision glass processing facilities and applications laboratories. In addition to this, Dolomite has managed to attract top quality 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 throughput for the first time,” said Phil. “We can ‘number up’ the processes in a chip, maybe even a hundred times. This will enable the chip to deliver production level throughput which are currently undertaken using more traditional batch processes that may be lower quality and less accurate.”
Established in 2005 as the world’s first microfluidic application centre, Dolomite is focussed on working with customers to turn their concepts for microfluidic applications into reality. With an in-depth understanding of chemistry and the life sciences, expertise in microfabrication and microfluidics, together with instrument design and development capabilities, Dolomite is enabling some of the world’s top providers in fields as diverse as environmental monitoring, drug discovery and forensic science to deliver microfluidic systems to the market place.