Cardiff University: Accessible 3D printed microfluidic devices – Ultimaker: 3D Printing Story

Cardiff University: Accessible 3D printed microfluidic devices – Ultimaker: 3D Printing Story

Fluids behave quite differently at the microscale and this enables us to do experiments that we would
otherwise not be able to do In the laboratory, at the moment we have
3 focus areas of research which all have a common requirement for producing
spherical capsules The first is in nuclear fusion energy production where we need small capsules
for putting the nuclear fuel in The second is where we’re making protocells, or artificial
cells, for studying membrane-protein interactions and the third is where we’re studying encapsulation of
the stem cells to go in the spinal cord to repair your damaged spinal cord
if you’ve been in a car crash A microfluidic system can be compared to a large-scale
plumbing system, say in this building but reduced in size, onto a chip Very small tubes delivering fluids to different types
of sensors and other actuators in the system So we can design small circuits
to move around small volumes of fluid generally using techniques borrowed
from the microelectronics industry Recently, we started using 3D printing
to make these microfluidic devices and that has many benefits because it enables us
to make microfluidic devices very rapidly so we can iterate and make new designs
and improve upon those designs very rapidly It also enables us to make things cheaply Because these printers are cheap and affordable, it’s
a technology that we can share with our collaborators and bring microfluidic technology to other people and
other researchers who wouldn’t otherwise be using it Traditional microfluidic techniques require
very expensive equipment and also a great deal of knowledge of
how to use that equipment So that puts a lot of people off whereas with 3D printing, you just need to
be able design it on a computer which is fairly simple to learn and then press a button and walk away, and then
you come back and your device is ready to use It’s also beneficial that you can incorporate it
with more traditional techniques quite easily you can plug it into existing fittings
that are readily available We begin with the very simple modular building blocks;
just tubings and junctions From there, we expanded that to
a wider range of different types of microfluidics We used those different design systems to make
a modular system that’s based on Lego that anyone can print out and click them together
and make their own microfluidic systems Previous researchers have discounted this type of
printing because they found that it leaked and they couldn’t see through it But by refining the print characteristics I found that
if you avoid under extrusion you can make the devices both transparent
and water-tight To avoid under extrusion, you have to print
quite thin layers and you have to print quite slowly So 50-micron layers
at speeds of 30 millimeters a second or less The same techniques that make them water-tight
also beneficially make them transparent because the gaps in between the device
are what cause you to lose transparency We’re pleased with what we’ve been able to achieve
with 3D printing for microfluidics so far but what we’re really looking forward to is as the diversity of the materials
with which you can print expands and the resolution of the printers improves being able to make not just fluidic circuits, but integrate
optical and electronic components also This will enable us to print multifunctional devices
from multiple materials in one single device We’re working with researchers from a range of fields
around the world and 3D printing really allows us to be able to
send the design to another laboratory We’re working with people in Italy, for example and we’re able to send them designs
that they can print out in their labs conduct experiments and report back the results
the very same day It really makes the process much simpler so that
everyone can access the benefits of microfluidics The beautiful thing about 3D printing is that
potentially everybody can have them Any other walk of life, a hospital, a biological
laboratory, anywhere really – everybody can use them It democratizes the technology of making things

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. Super cool video, looking forward to the next. We are a small 3D modeling software startup completely bootstrapped and tooks us 5 years to develop our real-time collaborative CAD.? Would be great if you had time to check our software SolidFace.

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