The development of microfluidic systems for lab-on-a-chip (LoC) and organ-on-a-chip (OoC) applications require precise fluid flow control. Typically, on-chip flows are controlled by integrating a microfluidic chip with external pumps that deliver fluid flow at the microscale (typically on the order of mL/min) through the microchannels. To this end, commercially available flow devices such as extrusion syringe pumps, peristaltic pumps, and pneumatic pumps have been widely used.
Unfortunately, existing pumps suitable for microfluidic applications are usually bulky and costly. For example, pressure-controlled flow systems cost as much as $10,000, whereas syringe pumps and peristaltic pumps cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Pumps with a small footprint are preferred for LoC and OoC applications. While miniature pumps are commercially available, they require proprietary and expensive control systems (over $1000). More importantly, these commercially available pumps are not amenable to customization. However, because each experiment has unique requirements such as flowrate, working environment, and available space, rapid customization of the instrument would benefit users.
To make microfluidic pumps more accessible to the scientific community, researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) Soft Fluidics Lab have developed a highly customizable, 3D printed peristaltic pump kit, where users can download the design files, 3D print, and assemble their do-it-yourself (DIY) peristaltic pump.
“3D printers have become more and more affordable, and they are a commodity that is found in most scientific laboratories today. With the advancement of 3D printing technologies, scientists no longer have to rely on manufacturers to manufacture components; they can design and print them themselves at an affordable cost. We are slowly observing the democratization of manufacturing by 3D printing technology,” says Assoc. Prof. Michinao Hashimoto, the project’s principal investigator from SUTD.
The peristaltic pump is powered and controlled by Arduino, an open-source electronics platform. “With the introduction of Arduino, precise control of motors is becoming accessible to nonexperts. These open-source electronic platforms are empowering scientists with little background in electronics and programming to build complex scientific instrumentations,” explains lead author Terry Ching, a joint graduate student with SUTD and National University of Singapore (NUS).
By combining 3D printed parts with open-source electronic prototyping platforms, the team built a peristaltic pump comparable to commercially available options at a fraction of the cost, an estimated $50 per pump. The assembled pumps offered a wide range of flowrate for microfluidic users (0.02–727.3 μL/min). The pump also has a small footprint of around 20 × 50 × 28 mm, which can be placed in a cell incubator. Notably, the pump is designed in the form of a kit, allowing end-users to customize the setup according to their preference.
“We believe that a kit has the intrinsic ability to evoke the culture of hacking and tinkering. Hopefully, this can in turn inspire the scientific community to develop more open-source scientific infrastructure,” says Hashimoto.
Computer-aided design (CAD) files with detailed instructions to fabricate the pump are found in the team’s paper, “Highly-customisable 3D-printed peristaltic pump kit,” published in HardwareX. This research was conducted in collaboration with the research groups of Prof. Yi-Chin Toh (Queensland University of Technology), Assoc. Prof. Javier Fernandez (SUTD), and Prof. Chwee Teck Lim (National University of Singapore).