MICROFLUIDICS

THINK SMALL, THINK BIG. OPD'S APPROACH TO MICROFLUIDICS DESIGN

OPD have developed considerable expertise in microfluidics over recent years – and while microfluidic 'Chip' development is crucial, there are many more considerations that underpin successful microfluidics device development.

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MICROFLUIDICS

Strategic Planning

Having a clear and well-communicated strategy is crucial to ensure that the device meets its intended application and requirements. It helps to identify the key challenges, resources, and milestones necessary for successful development, and enables efficient resource allocation, risk management, and evaluation of success. A strategy needs to be flexible and adaptable, allowing for adjustments as new information or circumstances arise.

Teams across all disciplines must speak a common language in order to work collaboratively while staying informed by past efforts and intentions and remaining aligned with the bigger picture. With microfluidics projects taking on average 10 years to reach the market, the people who start the project are likely to change along the way.

Clear documentation of prior work and considered on-boarding of new team members ensure that valuable knowledge doesn’t slip through the gaps in these transition times.

MICROFLUIDICS

DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS

Chip Design
The microfluidic device 'Chip' is critical and understandably the core development focus. The complex interplay between fluid dynamics, surface chemistry and microfabrication techniques, as well as a deep understanding of the underlying physics and chemistry requires considerable attention. The requirement of reliable, replicable and scalable results requires careful balancing and optimization of efforts throughout the whole process.

However, there are other considerations that are crucial to the overall success of the device development that need to be factored in.

System Integration
In many cases, microfluidic systems must be integrated with external systems, such as pumps, valves, and sensors.

Interfaces
Fluid flow is driven by pressure gradients. Designing fluidic connections and interfaces that are clean, reliable, leak-free and easy to use can present a significant engineering challenge.

Controls (sensing & feedback)
To achieve closed-loop control over microfluidic systems, it is often necessary to incorporate sensors and feedback mechanisms. This can be challenging due to the small size of the system, which may require the development of specialized sensing technologies that can operate at the microscale.

Stability and robustness
Microfluidic systems can be sensitive to changes in environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and vibration. Developing systems that are stable and robust requires careful design of components and materials, as well as advanced control algorithms.

Sample Introduction
Introducing biological samples into microfluidic devices presents challenges such as sample preparation, handling, and storage; sample volume and concentration; contamination and cross-reactivity; and assay development and validation. These challenges must be carefully managed to ensure that microfluidic devices produce reliable and accurate results.

MICROFLUIDICS

MANUFACTURING CHALLENGES

Microscopic Tolerances
Manufacturing tolerances of +/-0.1mm are common and generally achievable on typical handheld or benchtop products. In contrast the entire size of the microfluidics feature is often 0.1mm.

Planning Ahead
Developing a manufacturing plan at an early stage and understanding the limits of production materials processes/ surface finish up front helps predict the variation and is often possible to build in compensation to the prototype design where necessary.

Developing Partnerships
Manufacturing methods can involve specialist and expensive materials and processes with long lead times. While techniques exist for making single or small scale batches of devices, these are labour intensive and not scalable for production purposes.

Developing strong relationships with manufacturers are crucial in order that the prototyping methods can reflect the production process as closely as possible.

MICROFLUIDICS

TESTING AND VALIDATION

Simulate and Theorise
Microfluidic designs can be modelled and iterated before anything is physically made. Evolving chemistry and/or detection technology requires many iterations of device development and testing before settling on the final solution. Prior experience really helps to inform the initial design so that you can have faith in the quality of the results. It can be possible to save 2-3 development iterations by taking the time to conduct and iterate a simulation of the proposed system before diving into prototyping.

Data Feedback
Foundational science requires accurately repeatable fluid handling processes in order to replicate quantitative results. Each lifecycle of the design iteration supports the production of a sufficient number of prototypes to ensure that sufficient data can be gathered.

MICROFLUIDICS

USER INTERFACE AND USER EXPERIENCE

For microfluidic devices to be useful in a clinical or research setting, they must be easy to use and intuitive for end users. Developing user interfaces that are clear, concise, and provide relevant feedback can be a significant design challenge.

MICROFLUIDICS

REGULATORY APPROVAL

If you're interested in microfluidics then chances are you're familiar with the difficulties with the approval and adoption of new medical devices. Although there are reasons to be positive about the systems becoming more open and efficient, it's justifiably slow moving and risk adverse. Make it easier for everyone involved by understanding your market and planning your approvals pathway from the start. Regulatory approval should fall out of the end of a well considered and proactively documented development strategy.

MICROFLUIDICS

Collaboration

Bringing together experts from different disciplines with complementary skills and knowledge is essential as it enables the integration of diverse perspectives, which can lead to more creative and innovative solutions to complex challenges. Early engagement with specialized suppliers and service providers can provide knowledge, capabilities, components, and materials that are critical to the function of microfluidic devices, such as pumps, valves, sensors, and coatings.

In any one device development very few of these challenges are being solved for the first time. If start-ups, multinationals, service providers, suppliers and industry can find ways to work together more efficiently and effectively, then efforts within the field of microfluidics become all the more likely to pay off as making healthcare better for all.

Get in touch to find out how OPD can help with your microfluidics development today.

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