Home Research & Education Microfluidic devices: New 3D printing technology integrates electronics into microchannels

Microfluidic devices: New 3D printing technology integrates electronics into microchannels

The transition from conventional 2D to 3D microfluidic structures is a significant advance in microfluidics and offers advantages for scientific and industrial applications. Researchers at the Singapore University of Technology and Design have developed an interesting approach.

The researchers optimized the settings for DIW 3D printing to create support-free hollow structures for silicone sealants, ensuring that the extruded structure does not collapse. The team extended this demonstration to the fabrication of cross-linked, multi-layered microchannels with through-holes between the layers, which are often required for electronic devices such as antennas for wireless communication.

Another problem is the integration of electronic components into the microchannels during the 3D printing process. This is difficult to achieve with instant-curing resins. The research team used gradually curing resins to embed and fix small electronic elements such as RFID tags and LED chips. The self-adaptation of these elements with microchannels allowed the components to self-assemble with the electrical leads when liquid metal was passed through the channel.

“Our technology will offer a new capability to realize the automated fabrication of stretchable printed circuits with 3D configuration of electrical circuits consisting of liquid metals,” says lead author of the paper, Dr. Kento Yamagishi, SUTD.

This technology is particularly important because many electronic devices require a 3D configuration of conductive wires, such as a bridge wire in a coil. The SUTD research team proposed a simple solution to realize devices with such complex configurations. By injecting liquid metal into a 3D multilayer microchannel with embedded electronic components, the self-assembly of the conductive wires with these components is facilitated, enabling the fabrication of flexible and stretchable liquid metal coils.

As an example of the practical benefits of this technology, the team created a skin attachable radio frequency identification (RFID) tag using a commercially available skin-adhesive patch as a substrate and a freestanding flexible wireless light emitting device with a compact footprint. The fabricated RFID tag showed a high Q-factor (~70) even after 1,000 cycles of tensile loading (50% elongation), proving its stability under repeated deformation and adhesion to the skin.

“The DIW 3D printing of elastomeric multilayered microchannels will enable the automated fabrication of fluidic devices with 3D arrangement of channels, including multifunctional sensors, multi-material mixers, and 3D tissue engineering scaffolds,” says Associate Professor Michinao Hashimoto, SUTD principal investigator.

The DIW 3D printing technology for elastomeric multilayer microchannels enables the automated production of fluidic devices with 3D arrangement of channels, including multifunctional sensors, multi-material mixers and 3D fabric engineering scaffolds.


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