Polymer materials have some distinctive advantages in miniaturised systems such as “lab-on-a-chip” devices for medical diagnostics or micro-optics components for various sensors: Low material cost, in combination with fast automated fabrication processes with good replication of details and high geometrical flexibility, allow for mass-production of components and integrated systems. Favourable material properties such as transparency, biocompatibility, biofunctionality, electrical insulation, chemical resistance, and mechanical toughness are utilised. However, there are still material-related challenges, such as thermal expansion, long-term chemical stability, high-temperature resistance, and replication of micro-features with high aspect ratios (depth/width), as well as topics related to fabrication and assembly of parts and systems. Furthermore, polymers is a large and versatile group of materials, and many combinations of polymers and devices await exploration.

This project addresses challenges regarding the use of thermoplastic polymers in high-precision mass-produced components, based on input from industry and R&D institutions. The focus is on components with the largest outer dimension in the centimeter range, but with features (e.g. channels) typically 3-4 orders of magnitude smaller than this, i.e. down to about 1 micrometer.

The fabrication techniques covered by this project are injection moulding and hot embossing. These two techniques are complementary in many ways, while sharing some fundamental physical principles. They cover production volumes from small- to medium-scale (hot embossing) to large-scale (injection moulding).

The innovative contributions of the project will be

  • A fundamental understanding of the fabrication processes, including how material parameters and processing conditions affect the properties of the components. Rheology and numerical simulation will be important tools in these studies. The fabrication techniques will be compared, and guidelines for low-cost high-precision fabrication will be established.
  • Fabrication with novel polymers. This includes polymers being developed in running projects funded by the Nanomat programme of the Norwegian Research Council.


Published March 28, 2008