Microfluidics is an engineering discipline aimed at developing small devices that can precisely meter and deliver tiny amounts of fluid on demand from a dispensing device. Most of the precision molded parts microPEP manufactures for microfluidics applications
are used in devices for drug delivery, as well as genomics and drug discovery laboratory equipment.
But that’s not always the case. One of the most sophisticated microfluidics components we manufacture at microPEP is used in a consumer product that is manufactured in high volumes – the wind-proof butane lighter.
A few years ago, microPEP engineers entered into conversations with the customer team about consolidating several parts in their lighter assembly into one injection molded microfluidic component. This would improve the quality of the product – while reducing costs. The customer team liked the concept a great deal, but they were not sure we could pull it off. We were very confident we could, so we built a one-cavity mold and produced prototype parts. These landed the assignment.
What was so difficult about this particular part?
This tiny part has a Ø0.0025” orifice controlled to within +0.0001”/-0.0002”. It channels and discharges butane before it is ignited by a spark from the lighter. The high precision in the orifice diameter is necessary to maintain the desired flame characteristics as well as guarantee the flame’s stability in high wind conditions.
To make the project even more interesting: The component design has both an internal and external thread. Producing these threads requires a number of precision actions to occur, all within the confines of a very small mold.
So what can microfluidics engineers learn from our customer’s experience? Simply this: Don’t automatically assume that your microfluidic components are too difficult to mold as a single unit. Ask microPEP what they think.
Today, we manufacture a good number of microfluidics and biomicrofluidics components used in esoteric medical and research applications. But the this project has long been our benchmark for gauging a project’s degree of difficulty.