A solvent vapour thermoplastic bonding process is reported which provides high-strength bonding of PMMA over a large area for multi-channel and multi-layer microfluidic devices with shallow high-resolution channel features. The bond process utilises a low-temperature vacuum thermal fusion step with prior exposure of the substrate to chloroform (CHCl3) vapour to reduce bond temperature to below the PMMA glass transition temperature. Peak tensile and shear bond strengths >3 MPa were achieved for a typical channel depth reduction of 25 µm. The device-equivalent bond performance was evaluated for multiple layers and high-resolution channel features using double-side and single-side exposure of the bonding pieces. A single-sided exposure process was achieved which is suited to multi-layer bonding with channel alignment at the expense of greater depth loss and a reduction in peak bond strength. However, leak and burst tests demonstrate bond integrity up to at least 10 bar channel pressure over the full substrate area of 100 mm × 100 mm. The inclusion of metal tracks within the bond resulted in no loss of performance. The vertical wall integrity between channels was found to be compromised by solvent permeation for wall thicknesses of 100 µm which has implications for high-resolution serpentine structures. Bond strength is reduced considerably for multi-layer patterned substrates where features on each layer are not aligned, despite the presence of an intermediate blank substrate. Overall a high-performance bond process has been developed that has the potential to meet the stringent specifications for lab-on-chip deployment in harsh environmental conditions for applications such as deep ocean profiling.
- Ocean sensing