Mass producing pocket labs


mix-id328072.jpg(Nanowerk News) There is certainly no shortage of  lab-on-a-chip (LOC) devices, but in most cases manufacturers have not yet found  a cost-effective way to mass produce them. Scientists are now developing a  platform for series production of these pocket laboratories.
Ask anyone to imagine what a chemical analysis laboratory looks  like, and most will picture the following scene: a large room filled with  electrical equipment, extractor hoods and chemical substances, in which  white-robed researchers are busy unlocking the secrets behind all sorts of  scientific processes. But there are also laboratories of a very different kind,  for instance labs-on-a-chip (LOCs). These “pocket labs” are able to  automatically perform a complete analysis of even the tiniest liquid samples,  integrating all the required functions onto a chip that’s just a few centimeters  long. Experts all over the world have developed many powerful LOC devices in  recent years, but very few pocket labs have made it onto the market.
Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology  IPT in Aachen want to find out why so many LOCs are not a commercial success.  They are working with colleagues from polyscale GmbH & Co. KG, an IPT  spin-off, and ten other industrial partners from Germany, Finland, Spain, the  United Kingdom, France and Italy on ways to make LOCs marketable. Their ML²  project is funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which is  providing a total of 7.69 million euros in funding through fall 2016.
“One of the main reasons LOCs don’t make it to market is that  the technologies used to fabricate them are often not transferrable to  industrial-scale production,” says Christoph Baum, group manager at the IPT.  What’s more, it is far from easy to integrate electrical functions into pocket  labs, and of the approaches taken to date, none has yet proved suitable for mass  production.
Microfluidic negative for structuring films
Microfluidic negative for structuring films. (© Fraunhofer IPT)
Platform for series production
The ML² project aims to completely revise the way pocket labs  are made so they are more suited to series production. “Our objective is to  create a design and production platform that will enable us to manufacture all  the components we need,” says Baum. This includes producing the tiny channel  structures within which liquids flow and react with each other, and coating the  surfaces so that bioactive substances can bond with them. Then there are optical  components, and electrical circuits for heating the channels, for example. The  experts apply each of these components to individual films that are then  assembled to form the complete “laboratory”. The films are connected to one  another via vertical channels machined through the individual layers using a  laser.
The first step the researchers have taken is to adapt and modify  the manufacturing process for each layer to suit mass-production requirements.  When it comes to creating the channel structures, the team has moved away from  the usual injection molding or wet chemical processing techniques in favor of  roll-to-roll processing. This involves transferring the negative imprint of the  channels onto a roller to create an embossing cylinder that then imprints a  pattern of depressions on a continuous roll of film. The electrical circuits are  printed onto film with an inkjet printer using special ink that contains copper  or silver nanoparticles.
Each manufacturing stage is fine-tuned by the researchers in the  process of producing a number of demonstrator LOCs – for instance a pregnancy  test with a digital display. These tests are currently produced in low-wage  countries, but with increased automation set to slash manufacturing costs by up  to 50 percent in future, production would once again be commercially viable in a  high-wage country such as Germany. The team aims to have all the demonstrators  built and the individual manufacturing processes optimized by 2014. Then it will  be a case of fitting the various steps in the manufacturing process together,  making sure they match up, and implementing the entire sequence on an industrial  scale.
Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Read more: http://www.nanowerk.com/news2/newsid=32868.php#ixzz2iaAobyHm

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