Microfabrication developments in the picture

Since 2011 companies have been able to contact the Sirris Microfabrication AppLication Lab (SMALL) to find out more about the potential of microfabrication and miniaturisation. The machinery available for this has recently been increased resulting in laboratory facilities encompassing a comprehensive microfabrication chain. Moreover, the laboratory is involved in numerous projects and can also rapidly respond to emerging trends. This has been accomplished in close collaboration with industry and its partners.

Due to the combination of this new high-tech equipment - a vertical micro-injection moulding machine, wire-electric-discharge machining equipment (W-EDM) and a micro-milling unit - with the technology already available, including Aerosol Jet printing (AJP), the experts in the SMALL-Lab can now produce micro products, as well as macro products with micro details in polymers, which can be replicated or can be given intelligence and other advanced functionality. Denis Vandormael, project manager and responsible for the SMALL-Lab: "We can mill features to the accuracy of a few microns, make injection mouldings of micro components, reproduce and add materials or various functionalities by way of micro-printing. This makes it possible to create internal channels in plastic products and insert electronics inside, while simultaneously adding functionality on the surface, such as sensors, micro chips or LEDs."

'Plastronics' and the Internet of Things

Having all this machinery and technology together, forming a comprehensive micro-production, replication and printing chain, and located at a single location, is unique in Belgium. The SMALL-Lab is available for R&D and also companies focusing on making developments at micro level. The Lab closely follows all the trends occurring in microfabrication and participates in various projects both at home and abroad. Denis Vandormael: “We are also promoting 'plastronics' within the scope of our product development activities, a new domain which adds ever increasing functionalities and more electronics to polymer components. This in turn fits with the current trend towards the 'Internet of Things', which demands large scale production of multifunctional, miniaturised products. Therefore by using our infrastructure, companies are able to obtain a complete picture of what is required."

Microfluidics

Sirris is actively involved in microfluidics. This technology uses extremely small chips for manipulating fluids and carrying out chemical analyses, as well as implementing biomedical diagnoses. Denis: "With these various technologies we are currently participating in several microfluidic projects for the bio-industry, as well as for the micro-production of mechanical and optical products.

Miniaturisation clears the pathway for even smaller and more powerful components. Thanks to microfluidics the very smallest of chips can carry out complex chemical or biological processes in large volumes that previously had to be carried out in numerous stages. Analysis can be carried out faster; less sampling is required and fewer reagents are involved. This results in chemical engineers having more control over their processes. An additional advantage: intelligent application of polymers can lead to substantial cost savings with large production volumes.

"Our intensive activities with respect to microfabrication permits us now to undertake the entire production process," as Denis Vandormael, Project Manager and person responsible for the SMALL-Lab at Sirris pointed out. "When talking about microfluidic chips, Sirris does everything: from the design, mould production and making polymer prototypes, right through to applying advanced functionality technologies including the micro-printing of conductors and biological agents.

In order to make end-users aware of how these technologies can provide solutions for the challenges they face, Sirris in collaboration with its stakeholders - end-users and manufacturers - wants to go further, while simultaneously optimising interactions with suppliers.

Efforts in this respect have already led to a number of success stories at some companies, which we will soon elaborate on in some new blog posts.

As a partner in the Change2Micro project, which aims to stimulate micro-processing of plastics in Flanders, the SMALL-Lab is involved in the organisation of the seminar "Innovation through polymer microtechnology". This seminar will take place in Heverlee on 13 November. Interested in attending this event? You will find all further information on our agenda!