4D printing: A Long Time Dream Turns Reality



Is 4D printing a technological breakthrough to the future?

For the past 30 years, 3D printing has emerged as one of the promising technologies of all time. Various industries like biomedicine and construction were highly benefitted by the outcome of the 3D print.

But 3D technology is not a novelty anymore. Engineers and researchers across the globe are trying to add a dimension to this. Some successful developments in the industry are discovering new applications, new materials and new 3D printers in the wake of another technological evolution. With the up shooting of all this, 4D printing technology makes its existence a reality.


What is 4D printing and how it works?

4D is a breakthrough from 3D technology with advancements. 4D printing provides a further variable called time in its technology. A 4D printing piece is capable of adapting to the environment and interacting with it. 4D printing has the ability to transform itself into another structure over the influence of external energy like temperature, light or other environmental stimuli. It allows the object to modify its shape autonomously without human intervention.

With all the provided features, 4D printing in some cases are capable of self-building and repairing. The revolution of 4D technology unravels a whole new world of chances in sectors like medicine, civil engineering, construction, etc. The created 4D device will be having the ability to react to the environmental changes like temperature, pressure, humidity variation and adjust to them accordingly.


Some promising outcomes of the 4D printing technology

Flexible flower-like petals: The Georgia Institute of Technology has succeeded in developing a flower-like structure featuring 3D printing-petals with the ability to adjust its form according to the temperature change. The scientists have used tensegrity, a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, connected entirely by cables to make this happen. The developed substance reacts to water at 65 degree Celsius and despite compression, managed to achieve the expected state. Because of its lightweight and durable nature, the system could allow the transformation of disassembled or reduced structure into space.

A group of researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute of biologically inspired engineering is developing a special material called hydrogel. The flower-like structure can change its shape depending on the temperature of the environment. The 4D flower resembles the microstructure of flowers which gives flowers the ability to change shape according to temperature, humidity, etc.

Mesh-like steel structure for NASA: A Spanish engineer named Raul Pulido Casillas has developed wire mesh-like structure for NASA with the help of 4D printing. The structure is made of attached steel pieces. It incorporates thermal regulation programming and remarkably even the functionality of the material is developed. With the structure’s capability to reflect heat from outside and preserve it from inside, the optimal element could be used to manufacture space suits or coat the material on the spaceship.

Clothing that changes its shape: Self-Assembly Printing Lab developed by assistant professor Skylar Tibbits of MIT is studying potential applications of 4D printing technology. Tibbits has been working with Autodesk on studying 3D printing structures and their post-printing behaviour. The lab is developing its idea of clothing that changes its structure according to the weather or the activity. For example, a normal shoe could reform its shape when the person wearing it starts running providing comfort and amortization.

4D printed water valve: A team of scientists at the University of Wollongong in Australia developed a 4D printed water valve with the help of printed hydrogel ink. The hydrogel ink has the feature to rapidly react to high temperatures. The designed water valve closes itself when hot water is poured on it and widens when the temperature goes down.

Vascular stents in biomedicine: With all the provided developments in the 4D printing technology, the medical world is already utilizing it for biomedicine purposes. Vascular stent like medical devices are tailored for patients need using 4D printing technology. They react to body heat and expand when facing cardiovascular issues.

4D printing is an undergoing research process. It needs more development to take its shape in human society fully-fledged. Even when the 4D printing is still at the beginning stage, when it gets ahead to the future, human society can look for its influence in the Additive Manufacturing that could revolutionize traditional manufacturing.