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A Promising Industry 4.0 Breakthrough in the Biochip Market, Award-Winning Automated Optical Inspection System Powered by Taiwan Tech

Industry: Biotechnology

The increased competition between major companies such as Fluidigm, Illumina, Perkin Elmer is rapidly expanding the biochip market. Based on an US market research report in 2020, the Global Biochip Market is expected to rise 11.7%, reaching 27.51 billion USD by 2028 and 34.25 billion USD by 2030 compared to its size in 2020 of 12.82 billion USD.

Taipei, Taiwan (PRUnderground) April 27th, 2022

The increased competition between major companies such as Fluidigm, Illumina, Perkin Elmer is rapidly expanding the biochip market. Based on an US market research report in 2020, the Global Biochip Market is expected to rise 11.7%, reaching 27.51 billion USD by 2028 and 34.25 billion USD by 2030 compared to its size in 2020 of 12.82 billion USD. Many major factors causing the increase in research and investment in the biochip market include the need to miniaturize biological, clinical tests for research & diagnosis, immune diseases, cancers, viral infections, and personal treatment. This is an unique and promising opportunity for the biochip market to grow larger and for companies to try integrate new technologies with the trending Industry 4.0

Taiwan Tech (NTUST) won the distinguished award in 2021 at the International Conference on Smart Sensors for the research, “Development of an Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) system for Rapidly and Precisely Measuring Dimensions of Embedded Microchannel Structures in Transparent Bonded Chips”. The research is a collaboration between the High Speed 3D Printing Research Center, which professor Pin-Chuan Chen directs along with Chi-Minh Truong, a graduate student from Taiwan Tech’s department of mechanical engineering and many other professors from different universities in Taiwan. It is capable of doing the dimensional measurement of biochips with fast speed, high accuracy and low cost, which can tackle the problem that researchers and companies are facing when working in the industry.

“There was a need for a machine that could measure microfluidic chips’ dimensions automatically. Back then, the AOI was created for measuring a straight line microchannel chip’s structure. However, fabricated microfluidic chips in the industries may have a more complex microchannel structure. Therefore, the system, which is also an upgrade, has the ability to measure curved and Y microchannel structures, making it able to work on higher level structures,” said Chi-Minh Truong.

The AOI system is constructed based on Snell’s law, designed with an optical lightning camera module, a movement mechanism module, a motion sensor module and an electronic control system and vision software. The system’s camera, with lights provided, captures the dimensions of the structure from certain angles. By using NI LabVIEW 2018 programming interface, the system is programmed to automatically analyze the captured image and acquire all the important data. The data is then used to calculate the height and width measurements of the microchannel cross-sections and the results are presented on the human–machine interface.

However, after numerous efforts to overcome challenges, his results are significantly considerable. Many existing techniques such as interferometric microscopy, confocal fluorescence microscopy (CFM), optical coherence tomography (OCT), laser interferometry require manual measurements taken but the AOI system is able to operate automatically, thus can save more resources for manufacturers. In the past, metrology required many complex manual steps; now, with just a simple mouse-click, the system will automatically measure the dimensions and the final results are provided in just seconds. The accuracy in measurement of the system, with a low uncertainty range of 1.67-2.35%, shows that the AOI system’s precision is higher than other existing methods (CFM’s uncertainty is 5-6%, and OCT’s uncertainty is 4%). Moreover, the low cost of the AOI system is a great factor to consider as the price for an Interferometric Microscopy is USD140,000 while the Automated Optical Inspection System only costs USD140. “With further development, the system in the future can be capable of working in more complex structures and different transparent materials with the same accuracy as the demanding biochip market grows,” said Chi-Minh Truong.

In the last few years, the 4.0 industry has been a great trend that affects the biochip market and the manufacturing industries. It allows companies to connect and share information easily among customers, manufacturers, suppliers and other parties in the supply chain. The revolution improves productivity and competitiveness, creates a digital economy, and provides chances to gain economic successes and remain sustainability. Manufacturers are now improving their factories to be smarter, integrated and fully automated.

“The system can be used along with IOTs in smart factories. It certainly can be controlled and connected with other machines in the manufacturing line using the internet with smartphones, tablets, laptops and you can even control them when you are in another country,” Chi-Minh Truong shared. He also states that AI can be a promising function that can be included inside the system: “The AOI, can be used with the AI to automatically detect the type of surface of the microfluidic chips, therefore use the correct algorithm for the detected surface, making it no longer required for an operator to choose the algorithm manually.”

This achievement, along with other successful researches from Taiwan Tech students, are not just showing how well is NTUST’s contribution to the world’s science and technology, but also open a bright future for them to be parts of the trending fourth industrial revolution, especially when Taiwan Tech is also showing its focus on the Industry 4.0 by recently established the “Taiwan Tech Industry 4.0 Implementation Center”, the only center in Taiwan that is devoted to the training of Industry 4.0 talent and the development of related technologies.

In the next few years, the biochip market, as well as the 4.0 industry, will continue to develop at a fast speed. More successes like this from Taiwan Tech not only show how well the school has been doing in the fields with their talents, but also can be helpful for many microfluidic chips manufacturing companies around the world as these systems certainly provide significantly higher productivity and efficiency.

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