Everyday clients share their microfluidic designs or products with contract manufacturing companies. Interestingly the designs can be classified to two types, let’s call them Type A or B, based on whether they exploit micron-size specific behavior of fluids or not. These small scale phenomena include surface tension, electrical, magnetic or shear force, etc… which may behave differently in a 30 micron dia. channel compared to a 1mm dia. channel for similar designs.
Type A devices exploit the micron scale behavior to achieve a novel function. A Type A product offers something new that probably is not feasible if the design is scaled 10 times larger. Type A designs are therefore innovative or perhaps disruptive. On the other hand, Type B devices offer to miniaturize, integrate or automate existing fluidic products or processes. The value proposition for type B products may include “cheaper”, “faster” or “more accurate” words.
Unfortunately, founders of Type B ventures after 1-2 years, or academic researchers of Type B microfluidic devices after 3-5 years face the sad reality that the macro-scale counterpart of their design, also, offers good or even better solution. Type B products have therefore uphill or often fatal crossing of the chasm due to stiff competition from status quo. Below, I would like to bring summary of a typical communication between a manufacturer and a Type B microfluidic start-up venture:
Venture: How much it costs to manufacture 1000 units of the attached design?
Manufacturer: $50 per chip.
Venture: But that is too expensive. This chip is supposed to be disposable; a conventional lab does the same test that our chip does for less than $10.
Manufacturer: If you increase the volume of your order to 100,000 chips then we manufacture for $5 per chip.
Venture: But we have other costs too. This doesn’t make sense.
I have lost count of similar conversations that we have been through, but it easily exceeds several per month. Looking back, I confidently say that chances are low to hear back from the above Type B prospect! On the other hand, we have completed hundreds of projects and delivered thousands of chips to type A clients. Several of them well on their path to launch truly novel products with +$100 price tags!
Aarash Sofla is founder CEO of uFluidix. Under his leadership uFluidix has become a global leader in manufacturing of microfluidic devices.