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High-precision modular microfluidics by micromilling of interlocking injection-molded blocks


Wider use and adaptation of microfluidics is hindered by the infrastructure, knowledge, and time required to build prototype systems, especially when multiple fluid operations and measurements are required. As a result, 3D printing of microfluidics is attracting interest, yet cannot readily achieve the feature size, smoothness, and optical transparency needed for many standard microfluidic systems. Herein we present a new approach to rapidly construct modular microfluidic systems, by modifying and assembling injection-molded blocks with interlocking features. We demonstrate this principle using milling of ordinary LEGO® bricks, and develop approaches for sealing and interconnecting bricks to form reconfigurable microfluidic systems. Desktop micromilling achieves channel dimensions as small as 50µm depth and 150µm width and adhesive films seal channels to allow internal fluid pressure of >400kPa. Elastically averaged connections between bricks result in a mechanical locating repeatability of ~1µm, enabling fluid to pass between bricks via an O-ring seal with >99.9% reliability. We demonstrated and tested block-based systems for generating droplets at rates above 9000/min and COV <3%, and integrated optical sensors. We also show how blocks can be used to build easily reconfigurable interfaces with glass microfluidic devices and imaging hardware. Microfluidic bricks fabricated by FDM and SLA 3D printing cannot achieve the dimensional quality of molded bricks, yet 3D printing allows customized bricks to be integrated with standard LEGOs. Our approach enables a wide variety of modular microfluidic units to be built using a widely available, cost-effective platform, encouraging use in both research and education.

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Publication details

The article was received on 04 Sep 2017, accepted on 12 Dec 2017 and first published on 12 Dec 2017

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C7LC00951H
Citation: Lab Chip, 2017, Accepted Manuscript
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    High-precision modular microfluidics by micromilling of interlocking injection-molded blocks

    C. E. Owens and A. J. Hart, Lab Chip, 2017, Accepted Manuscript , DOI: 10.1039/C7LC00951H

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