4D Printing: Give Life to Inert Materials


4D printing is an emerging technology that can be used to print customisable smart materials

3D printing technology has caused much hype over the past few years for its benefits in printing materials for sensors, robotic skin and many more applications. Now the question is, “What’s next?”

Here is a technology from future, 4D printing that gives life to an inert object by adding the dimension of time to it.

Adding another D to 3D

These 4D materials are printed using commercial 3D printers like Polyjet 3D printers, but when it comes to ink, they use programmable and advanced materials. Hence, 4D printed inert object can change its shape and behaviour over time in response to heat, light or water. This property adds another dimension of time in 4D printed objects. The technology was developed at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and is a part of the project of MIT Self-assembly Lab. The lab’s purpose is to combine technology and design in order to invent self-assembly and programmable material technologies, which aim at re-imagining construction, manufacturing, product assembly and performance.

Why work with four dimensions?

The 4D printing sounds cool but after hearing the hype of these emerging new technologies, a question that comes to mind is whether it has any practical advantage or it’s just a treat to eyes. Well, for starters, the major and most obvious advantage of the technology is that objects larger than 3D printers can be printed through computational folding. As 4D printed objects can be shrunk, unfolded or expanded, objects larger than printers can be printed in some secondary form and then can be expanded.

Another advantage of the technology is that the smart materials made by this technique would not require electricity to change its shape or perform any action, instead, they can be activated by some environmental stimuli like temperature, water or light.

One more advantage that 4D printer can offer is in logistics. The objects could be printed as a flat board or some other simple shape. These products can then be expanded to their original shapes and sizes after reaching the desired destination using temperature, water or light conditions.

Future with 4D printing

This technology from future opens a door that can lead to many possible applications. When 4D products would be launched in the market, they can find their application in almost every field. Let us explore some of the potential applications.

Pipes of plumbing system

One possible application in the real world with 4D printing could be 4D printed pipes that could change its diameter in response to the flow of water and water demand. The technology could also lead to making self-healing pipes, which will automatically repair themselves as they have an ability to transform shape in response to environmental stimuli.

Self-assembling furniture

We can not make 3D printed furniture as it is limited by the size of a printer, but with 4D printing, we someday might see a 4D printed flat board that will transform into a chair in response to water or maybe a focused light beam.

Applications in medical field

4D printed proteins could bring revolution in the medical field. It can be used to produce self-reconfiguring protein. In a research, scientists from Monash University found that 4D printed products can be used to produce equipment that will be responsive to body needs once ejected in the human.

Structures for extreme environment

The 4D printing can be used to make structures that could assemble and repair themselves after weather damage in extreme environmental conditions like in space.