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
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 3-layer devices,
but already this offers the possibility to massively 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. 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 the requirement
to ensure that the internal glass layers of the device do not suffer any marking
whilst 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 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 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.”