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Labs-on-a-chip and silicon chips both have the potential - and in some cases have already reached the potential - to drastically scale down tasks, in these cases performing chemical reactions and performing computations.

Part of the appeal of silicon chips is - besides their size - is that they can be easily mass-produced. Labs-on-a-chip have tremendous potential, but they are in the early stages of development.

Can labs-on-a-chip be mass-produced in the same way that silicon chips are mass-produced?

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Production rates of lab-on-chip fluidic devices can exceed the production rate of silicon ICs easily. Some types of lab-on-chip devices can be fabricated via injection molding. Of course, there are subsequent operations: assembly, QC. But those can be automated.

I'm aware of a device that's already being produced at a rate of 5 million units a year. These ones. They are not small enough to fit the "chip" category: the disk is about 100mm diameter. Nevertheless, it follows the philosophy of lab-on-chip.

At the same time. In terms of complexity, present cutting edge lab-on-chip devices are 8 to 10 orders of magnitude simpler than present cutting edge ICs. Let me put it this way: if today's lab-on-chip were silicon ICs, they would be 741 OpAmps from 1968.

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It's doubtful - for the simple reason: a lab-on-chip requires a silicon chip to make sense of the readouts, so increase in production of labs-on-chip will automatically create increase of demand (and production) of silicon chips.

There is an avenue which can overcome that trend - single-use, disposable labs-on-chip, say, preloaded with a dose of a marker substance, so you need to replace it after the measurement, attaching a new one to the same "front-end" silicone chip - say, medical samplers where the readout of given marker of given patient uses up one disposable lab-on-chip, which is inserted into a reader to give the readout. Still, for any reusable lab-on-chip, a silicon part will remain a necessity.

Still again, the technologies may blend - say, you could claim the production of thermal sensor devices outpaced the production of microcontrollers, simply because about every microcontroller on the market contains one or more thermal sensor built in, next to all the production of standalone sensors (which hasn't been outpaced). I can imagine in the future many generic chips including some lab-on-chip components, so along with regular production this may increase the number.

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  • $\begingroup$ The first paragraph doesn't agree with practice. There are several classes of microfluidic devices that don't require silicon embedded into the lab-on-chip itself. For example the readout can be done optically with an external set of optical sensors and light sources, or even a Mark I Eyeball. (p.s. The only type of readout that truly requires silicon to be embedded into the lab-on-chip is MEMS biodetectors.) $\endgroup$ – Nick Alexeev Feb 8 '15 at 21:05

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