Miniaturization and integration of lab processes on a chip is booming. Lab-on-a-chip technology is finding its way into more and more disciplines of life sciences and health. Virtually every organization in this field is investigating the advantages of microfluidics to achieve more efficiency, higher throughput and a larger rate of cost-effectiveness. This blog gives insight into the costs involved in the design and manufacturing processes of glass microfluidic chips. In addition, it holds experience-based tips that help you keep the financial side of your project on track.
If you are at the start of a microfluidic chip development process, you will find that already a lot of decisions must be made. Decisions about the lab steps your chip will have to perform, a first microfluidic layout, the number of chips that you will need and the time in which you must complete the project. An all-determining factor, however, is costs. No one has unlimited funds available, so how can you make sure you complete this process without breaking the bank?
We offer three perspectives to start working with microfluidic glass chips:
Fastest value for money: off-the-shelf chips for research and assay development
Design and prototyping of your own microfluidic glass chip
Manufacturing of larger chip quantities
If your project is still at an early stage, it can be helpful to start working with catalogue products. At Micronit, we encourage new research using microfluidics. We facilitate your try-outs with off-the-shelf microfluidic chips that you can simply order online. You can use the chips for your own research and assay development. In the Micronit webstore you will find a range of chips with a standard layout that can be used for many purposes. You can also order matching holders, tubing and connection tools. This way you can start working with glass microfluidic products in no time.
If you already have a specific chip design in mind, perhaps by using catalogue chips, you can start a product development process. It is good to realize that there are in fact two main phases in this process:
Design and prototyping phase
Volume manufacturing phase
Once you have shared the first concept of your product, preferably via your own primary drawings, an engineer will be appointed to your project. The engineer will thoroughly look into the available information and will always contact you in case of unclarities. For more info on product design and manufacturing technicalities, see our blog ‘Getting started with your own microfluidic glass chip’.
Keep in mind that the largest cost factor in product development is errors. For this reason, only when all the requirements for your product are perfectly clear, the engineer will prepare a design proposal. Also, an internal check will be conducted by a process engineer to assure the design can be supported by a smooth production process. After your approval, the production of the first batch will start.
To create a realistic prototype, we work with the same processes as in volume production. This involves:
A dedicated design team. Our microfluidic engineering professionals will team up to make sure that the design and first production of your product runs efficiently.
A lithographical mask for your design. We use high-end lithographical masks to assure the best etching results. If your product requires laser drilling, no mask is needed.
Production in a cleanroom environment. All production of glass chips takes place in our cleanroom. This is the only way to assure no particles are introduced inside the chip.
Use of specialized equipment by trained staff. Etching, powder blasting, laser drilling, cutting – all the steps that are required for glass processes are carried out in our factory by skilled operators.
Raw materials (glass). We have several types of glass available and will discuss which type is best for your product’s needs. Also, if your product requires hybrid use of glass and polymer or glass and silicon, we can advise. Raw materials in general only take up a small part of the total costs (<10%).
On average, a typical prototype run will not exceed €10k, depending on complexity.
Fast forward: all the checks and tests have been done and your product is functional in the way you intended. Now the real work starts! Whether you need 100 or 100.000 chips, there are some matters that must be considered before entering the manufacturing phase.
When a working concept is found and well-established processes are used, upscaling production can be relatively straightforward. It is important however to make sure that the final product will comply with all regulatory requirements (for instance the Medical Device Directive). The focus for upscaling is to get the risk evaluation and control plans, traceability and other process controls at the required levels. Also, a part of the development documentation might need to be upgraded to ISO 13485 standards.
It is challenging to give non-specific estimates about the cost price of a glass microfluidic chip. The actual pricing obviously depends on a lot of factors, with the number and complexity of the processing steps as the main component. But how to get insight into cost estimates for your new microfluidic product? In the end, the costs per chip make the difference between profit or loss and this determines whether your product idea is viable or not.
The main costs for volume production are facility costs and operator hours. In some cases, specific requirements for packaging and testing can also add costs. As mentioned before: the costs of the actual base material (glass) only make out a limited share of the cost price of your product.
Production volumes are also affecting the price per chip. Lower production volumes lead to higher unit costs than higher volumes. Depending on the volume and needs, the chip price varies. Regardless of the challenge to give a specific estimate of the cost price of a microfluidic chip, the best price ranges will be seen from € 2-5 per cm2 of processed surface. This estimate is only applicable for large orders with a limited number of processing steps.
It is useful to gain some insight into design rules and manufacturing processes. Evidently, if specific processes must be tailored for your project, this brings higher costs than making use of everyday processes. To avoid extra, and possibly unnecessary costs, keep the following things in mind.
In production we use standard-size sheets of glass with a usable surface of 140x140mm. The smaller the chip size, the more chips will fit on a substrate, the lower the costs per chip. Combining a small glass chip with a large cartridge or polymer microfluidic circuit board helps to make an easy-to-handle but cost-effective solution.
Aspect ratio is a crucial factor for costs. Aspect ratio is the relation between feature width and height. Small features that are combined with large depths are in general much more complicated to manufacture than features with lower aspect ratios.
Limit the amount of different channel heights in a design. In glass manufacturing, each etch depth needs a separate etching step.
Keep your chip layout simple. Often it is the most cost-effective to keep the chip itself simple and add complexity to external hardware.
Consider a scenario in which your chip is re-used. Glass chips can easily survive thorough cleaning, so make use of this advantage! Whether it is by performing the same test multiple times or creating a versatile chip that could be used in different test settings.
A sideconnect microfluidic system takes away the need for separately manufactured inlet holes at the top of the chip. This saves a processing step and helps to reduce the chip size.
When you are scouting for a production facility for your glass microfluidic chip, you will get across all kinds of companies. How to choose the right partner for your product? It may seem sensible to always opt for the partner with the lowest quote. But this might prove you wrong and cost you more in the end. Keep the following checklist in mind – it will help you to select a partner that will have the right capabilities to make your product a success!
Five things to pay attention to when choosing a production partner:
Opt for a one-stop shop that offers both engineering and production facilities. This guarantees a smooth transfer from design to manufacturing.
Choose an experienced partner with a track record in microfluidic product development in your line of work.
IP protection should be one of the first topics that is discussed.
Look for the right quality compliances, like ISO 9001 and ISO 13485 for medical devices.
Find a partner that offers a transparent and comprehensible process with clearly defined phases.
The road to get a new microfluidic product to the market can be a bumpy one. Make sure you gather enough information on microfluidic product development, production agreements, cost estimates and development partners before starting. After all, a well-prepared process is more likely to turn out a success.
Are you still at the beginning of this process and full of questions? Then contact our experts. They would love to hear all about your wishes and ideas. They have seen most of your concerns before and are happy to give useful tips and advice!