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Topic: FP7-SME-2012-BSG Research for the benefit of SMEs

Title: LOCOS- Development of an improved manufacturing process for monolithic implementation of microfluidic networks and microoptical elements based on injection processes.

Subject of the project:

The aim of this proposal is to develop an improved manufacturing process that allows the monolithic implementation of an arbitrary complex microfluidic network together with microoptical elements. These optofluidic devices will be the common microfluidic component for different lab-on-chip systems used for in line monitoring in a wide variety of industrial process.

The main objectives of this project are:

-To reduce the manufacturing cost of this microfluidic networks together with microoptical elements, substituting the laborious conventional photolithography process used actually by a cost effective recent patented injection process
-To improve the fabrication and packaging process according to the end users requirements,
-To estimate the market size validating the device capabilities for monitoring applications of end users at laboratory level.

The commercial development of this lab-on-chip systems depends on the improvement of the manufacturing process and on the potential demand, thus reaching the main objectives quoted above becomes essential. This achievement combined with the technological qualities of this device will allow obtaining an economical, versatile and efficient micro optical component. The demonstrated technical performances of this microfluidic network, like the enhancement of light-fluid interaction, improves measurement capabilities of the global sensing system and constitutes an interesting technological low cost solution for inline measurement device market. In this way, main requirements generally requested by users will be fulfilled such as:

-Limit of detection and quantification according to technical specifications, 

-Plug-and-play low cost micro fluidic device that allows easy maintenance by non specialized personnel.
-Continuous monitoring over at least a process cycle

To achieve these objectives, the consortium will implement a work plan which will be based on 

the integration of recent advances in design of injection moulds for components with optical surface quality, laser processing of materials, joint technologies and different fields of microelectronic and micro-optic technology.

An in-line measurement system will be fabricated as a demonstrator in the project. It will be plugged and validated in real conditions for different industrial applications.

This proposal is the natural continuation of previous successful projects. Not only in the field of micro optic technologies applied to sensors development, but also in industrial monitoring.

Whereas these previous projects were focused in validation of optical sensors technology as a successful analytical technique, the present proposal is focused on improving technological issues in order to take this knowledge to market, assessing the feasibility of its commercial production.

Description of the project:

In the framework of SENA Project (Tecnologías de sensado nanofotónico TSI-020301-2008- 11) an optical sensor was developed for monitoring the surface treatment of metals, for example monitoring of caustic baths for aluminum extrusion dies cleaning. The capability of this technology to obtain optimum initial conditions and to follow the evolution of the reaction was validated at laboratory level. A multimode fiber coupled to the sensor supplies light to a multiple internal reflection (MIR) hollow structure. The measurand fluid is injected into the system allowing light-liquid interaction. After it, emerging light is coupled to another multimode fiber, and detected by a spectrometer.

This measurement system may be used to monitor processes which involve different concentrations of suspended particles in a fluid in the size range of 0.3-10 microns, so it could be an interesting monitoring and control tool for a wide variety of applications in fields such as chemistry, environment and health.

Currently, the manufacturing of the MIR involves a long laborious photolithography process that is not adaptable for mass production due to its high cost and long time of process. This procedure can be replaced by an injection process patented by one of the project partners (CNM-IMB), in order to improve the cycle time and reduce the production cost.

PHASES OF WORK:

1. Coordination and management, 2. Definition and requirements, 3. Design and simulation of the injection moulds, 4. Mould fabrication, 5.Fabrication process validation, 6. Design and integration of the demonstrator, 7. Pre industrial validation, 8. Exploitation and dissemination of results

An injection manufacturing approach of microfluidic network with micro-optical capabilities will be developed. In order to achieve this main result it will be necessary to design moulds, define the manufacturing process and select the more suited technologies and materials for fabrication. Partners will consider the combination of several technologies and materials for the micro mould fabrication, as e-beam writing, lithography, electroforming processes (X-LIGA, UV-LIGA, laser ablation) and/or precision engineering techniques (grinding, micro milling, electro discharge machining). Injection process parameters will be determined with a specific experimental plan. Different joint technologies, such as laser micro welding, arc micro welding or over injection, will be evaluated for the micro fluidic network assembly. After a surface and dimensional control quality of the entire sensor, functional tests will validate the sensor capabilities. The commercial success of these micro fluidic devices depends on the number of applications for which they are a validated solution. In consequence, a MIR based solution for the industrial applications proposed by end users partners will be developed. This solution will be a laboratory sensor prototype composed of light sources, light detector, signal processing unit and micro fluidic unit. Pre industrial test will be performed in order to evaluate integration and complete sensor features in real industrial environment.

It is expected to achieve a low production cost of the MIR systems (>0.5€). The technological and economical feasibility of these optical and micro fluidic devices will be tested with different applications defined by end users. The detailed design and manufacturing methodology will be designed in order to facilitate its development as a commercial prototype. Lead users will be companies of design and fabrication of micro fluidic components, micro electronics and  engineering of materials.

Partners sought and role in the project:

SME:

-End user to propose applications to validate MIR devices, for example industrial partners whose processes require in line monitoring by colorimetry measurements in fluids (nanoparticles manufacturers, ink manufacturers, surface metal treatment, …) detect presence of micro particles in fluids for quality control (lubricants).

-SME with capabilities in electronic system integration and signal processing.

Contacto:

Enrique Machuca García

Tel.+34 955 40 55 78 – Fax. +34 955 03 98 35
e-mail: enrique.machuca@juntadeandalucia.es