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3D Printing is the New Alternative to Soft Lithography

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Published on : Aug 07, 2019

Microfluidics involve study and manipulation of sub-microscopic liters of fluid. Microfluidics and technologies that use this concept have several multi and interdisciplinary fields of applications such as biology to engineering. Experiments can be conducted on an equipment that can be as small as a dollar coin. Such small scale of experiments helps in cutting down the amount of reagents used and also helps in reducing the production of waste. It also helps in maintaining the cost efficiency. These experiments can be accurately conducted at microscopic levels, providing lower reaction times and enhanced control over the conditions of the reaction.

The current benchmark for the microfluidic device fabrication is known as soft lithography. In this, the elastomeric materials are casted on a fabricated mold inside a clean room. In spite of several desirable characteristics to fabricate the microfluidic channels, though, the technique of soft lithography is a highly manual process. It is often very difficult to automate. Generally, the soft lithography technique has a cycle of design to prototype that lasts for a few days.

A New Solution in the Market

To counter this problem, 3D printing has come up to be a very lucrative alternative. These 3D printers can turn the designs into working model in the matter of hours. In addition to this, these printers also help in reducing cost due to recent launch of low-cost 3D printers. This has made 3D printing very accessible for the researchers. Today, there are several 3D printing technologies are available for the fabrication of microfluidic equipment.

There are however some limitations to this such as biocompatibility, flexibility, and optical transparency of the available materials for 3D printing and integration of the 3D printed microfluidics with the operational substrates of materials.

To tackle this issue, researchers have developed a direct ink writing (DIW). This 3D printing ink is a fast curing silicone sealant. It is designed to fabricate the microfluidic equipment quickly on different substrates.