Simulation before fabrication: a case study on the utilization of simulators for the design of droplet microfluidic networks
The functional performance of passively operated droplet microfluidics is sensitive with respect to the dimensions of the channel network, the fabrication precision as well as the applied pressure because the entire network is coupled together. Especially, the local and global hydrodynamic resistance changes caused by droplets make the task to develop a robust microfluidic design challenging as plenty of interdependencies which all affect the intended behavior have to be considered by the designer. After the design, its functionality is usually validated by fabricating a prototype and testing it with physical experiments. In case that the functionality is not implemented as desired, the designer has to go back, revise the design, and repeat the fabrication as well as experiments. This current design process based on multiple iterations of refining and testing the design produces high costs (financially as well as in terms of time). In this work, we show how a significant amount of those costs can be avoided when applying simulation before fabrication. To this end, we demonstrate how simulations on the 1D circuit analysis model can help in the design process by means of a case study. Therefore, we compare the design process with and without using simulation. As a case study, we use a microfluidic network which is capable of trapping and merging droplets with different content on demand. The case study demonstrates how simulation can help to validate the derived design by considering all local and global hydrodynamic resistance changes. Moreover, the simulations even allow further exploration of different designs which have not been considered before due to the high costs.