The microfluidic market is predicted to reach $8.78 billion by 2021, driven by an aging population across the globe and increased medical infrastructure throughout industrializing countries. Microfluidics deals with the processing of small amounts of fluids, typically microliters and nanoliters, through either active or passive forces to perform the desired test. The test cartridges are usually about the size of a credit card or smaller and the testing equipment typically fits in the same size area as a laptop. The small amounts of fluids required for tests, the speed they can be carried out at and the space saved by the much smaller testing equipment all lend their support to the sharp increase in popularity seen by these devices.
Preco, Inc. is uniquely positioned to provide the optimal production solution for your Lab-on-a-Chip microfluidic device. We specialize in polymer laminated devices which, when coupled with laser processing, produce high quality, low cost devices. Working with our customers, we have developed innovative production and laminating techniques which have met our customers demanding designs, quality and pricing specifications.
Microfluidic cards need to be precisely made and cost efficient to survive in the market. The two largest costs for a microfluidic device are the material costs and the machining costs. Preco can help lower your machining costs. Using our laser systems, we are able to process materials much faster without losing any of the accuracy or repeatability seen with die cutting. What others systems do in minutes we can in seconds. Most companies with fixed beam lasers process on a step and repeat system where they move your material into position, stop it, cut it and then move the next section of material into place. We can process microfluidics ‘on the fly’ meaning our laser system never turns off and your material never stops moving. Through ‘on the fly’ we are able to shorten the processing time for each card, reducing the time your material is on the machine, and therefore reducing the machining costs. This method can also give us a higher range of accuracy, as our cuts are always processed in the middle of the cutting area, instead of out near the sides, which results in angled cut edges. Please note all rates are material dependent.
Reregistration abilities are crucial to producing working microfluidic devices. The channels in a microfluidic card need to be separated so flow is not contaminated or altered through the cut path. This is achieved by putting a solid layer in between channel layers. These new layers only have a few through holes in key locations to allow the fluid to flow into the next level. Reregistration allows us to cut a layer filled with channels, laminate a different material on top of it, and then cut out a second pattern of through holes. We are able to locate the through holes using reregistration from the channel layer. After first cutting the channels, we laminate the next material on without ever stopping the machine. Then using our vision registration systems, we pick up on key features from the first pattern and use those to locate for the second cut pattern. The second pattern registers and cuts ‘on the fly’ also, allowing us to cut processing times in half. We then have a two-layer WIP (work in process) to laminate instead of having to laminate the two separate layers together after being cut. Using our vision systems, you know the through holes will be in the right place, as the materials are laminated together before the through holes are cut and therefore can't move.
As these devices become more intricate, we at Preco are ready. With custom designed and fabricated equipment developed specifically for multilayer laminations, we are ready to assemble your card in a fully automated and enclosed environment not seen anywhere else in the industry. Our new FlexStacker can place up to five different layers at a time, with each head moving independently from the other four and controlled by its own vision system. This system removes any discrepancies seen with hand lamination or blind lamination and removes many of the steps necessary for a single robot stacking. Our robotic heads only need to move to two locations, saving a huge amount of time over traveling to 5 different pick locations. We are also able to do all 5 vision captures in parallel with each other cutting out 80% of the vision delay from a normal system.
Involving us prior to your clinical trials and 510k submission allows production processes and paths to be established and documented. We can then configure an optimal production path tailored to each layer in your card. By combining several layers right at the laser, we are able to avoid a large amount of machine and operator time and make it so a six or more layer laminate can be assembled in a single pass through the FlexStacker. If needed, this precise stack up can then additionally be laminated to an injected molded cartridge or other 3D component as needed for commercialization of your design.
With our own Biochemist on staff, a clean room full of automated coating equipment and a fully equipped staging area, we are well positioned to spot/place reagents or antibodies based on your device requirements. Our systems are fully automated to avoid any variability that may be seen with human coating like scratching a window or misalignment. With our systems, throughput is doubled when compared to human coating. From a single coat of reagent to multiple coats with washing cycles in-between, our machines are programed to do it all - we just need your geometry!
One issue seen with the processing of microfluidics is how to fully remove all the chads. Due to the tiny channels and geometry being processed on materials covered in adhesives, removal of chads can be more difficult than expected. Here at Preco, we have patented chad extraction technologies to solve this issue. Using our patents, we are able to remove even the smallest chads making sure your device has clean channels and no obstructions in the path of flow.