Microsyst Nanoeng. 2022 Sep 15;8:102. doi: 10.1038/s41378-022-00439-2. eCollection 2022.
3D microfluidic devices have emerged as powerful platforms for analytical chemistry, biomedical sensors, and microscale fluid manipulation. 3D printing technology, owing to its structural fabrication flexibility, has drawn extensive attention in the field of 3D microfluidics fabrication. However, the collapse of suspended structures and residues of sacrificial materials greatly restrict the application of this technology, especially for extremely narrow channel fabrication. In this paper, a 3D printing strategy named nanofiber self-consistent additive manufacturing (NSCAM) is proposed for integrated 3D microfluidic chip fabrication with porous nanofibers as supporting structures, which avoids the sacrificial layer release process. In the NSCAM process, electrospinning and electrohydrodynamic jet (E-jet) writing are alternately employed. The porous polyimide nanofiber mats formed by electrospinning are ingeniously applied as both supporting structures for the suspended layer and percolating media for liquid flow, while the polydimethylsiloxane E-jet writing ink printed on the nanofiber mats (named construction fluid in this paper) controllably permeates through the porous mats. After curing, the resultant construction fluid-nanofiber composites are formed as 3D channel walls. As a proof of concept, a microfluidic pressure-gain valve, which contains typical features of narrow channels and movable membranes, was fabricated, and the printed valve was totally closed under a control pressure of 45 kPa with a fast dynamic response of 52.6 ms, indicating the feasibility of NSCAM. Therefore, we believe NSCAM is a promising technique for manufacturing microdevices that include movable membrane cavities, pillar cavities, and porous scaffolds, showing broad applications in 3D microfluidics, soft robot drivers or sensors, and organ-on-a-chip systems.