4D printing adds a new dimension to additive manufacturing
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When I was around 10 years old, I was lucky enough to visit Movie World, one of Australia’s biggest theme parks. I remember stumbling across a “4D movie theater” where a salesperson was encouraging crowds to come for the next session.
“Forget about 3D movies! ” He shouted. “The future is 4D! Come in and watch the world’s first 4D movie and explore a whole new dimension … time! “
Puzzled, my brother and I walked in, put on the usual blue and red glasses, and waited for our minds to be blown away. The result is disappointing: it is a 15-minute 3D movie In regards to time travel. We left, feeling a bit cheated, and went for a roller coaster instead.
That’s why I was a little skeptical at first when I heard about 4D printing. It turns out, however, that the technology is very real, and there’s a good reason its inventors claim to have exploited the fourth dimension.
What is 4D printing?
Named after the space-time dimension recognized by physicists, 4D printing is the process of creating 3D objects that can be manipulated over time.
4D printing is similar to 3D printing in that, based on a digital design, a series of individual 2D layers are created to ultimately form a 3D object; the difference is that 4D printing uses specific material which can be programmed to react to various stimuli in certain ways.
As a result, 4D printed items can change shape over time as their surroundings change, such as temperature fluctuations or exposure to water or light, while 3D printed objects remain stationary. .
How does 4D printing work?
4D printing still relies on commercial 3D printers for the process. But, rather than using a standard filament for 3D printers, 4D printing requires a smart material designed to respond to stimuli – such as hydrogels, shape memory polymers (SMP), or cellulosic composites – to program. and give the final object the properties it needs to metamorphose.
The 4D printing process begins with the engineer designing an object in a program, similar to 3D printing. However, rather than only manipulating the X, Y and Z axes, it is also possible to add variations in the material structure of the object – it is the geometric code that affects the ability of the final object to react. to different stimuli.
What is 4D printing used for?
The advantages offered by 4D printing make the process suitable for many industries and applications that already benefit from traditional 3D printing. One of its most practical uses is to create large objects as a whole part rather than smaller individual parts. This is thanks to computer folding.
Additionally, smart materials such as SMP can be used to print customizable shapes – an important property needed for healthcare applications such as creating skin grafts or developing implants.
Are 4D printers available for purchase?
4D printing is a relatively new concept, so it’s no surprise that there aren’t any prototypes available to the general public for purchase. Only a few companies, organizations, universities and research laboratories currently have access to 4D printing technology, including:
- Harvard Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
- MIT Self-Assembly Lab
- Wollongong University
- Singapore University of Technology and Design
The future of 4D printing
Although 4D printing is not yet in the hands of consumers, at its current rate of research and development, it is likely that you will come across at least more products made by this technology in the near future.
After all, only less than a decade ago, MIT Assistant Professor Skylar Tibbits introduced the concept of 4D printing at a TED talk. Since then, researchers have used the principles of 4D printing and self-assembly to make products that have already started to change the world we live in, from smart textiles to self-assembly cell phones.
Now that researchers have discovered the right materials that make printing transformative objects possible, the next step is to focus on printing shapes that can support each other. If successful, 4D printing could then be used to create building materials that can adapt to better handle varying loads or even auto parts that adjust for the weather. With 4D printing, the possibilities are endless.
Image Credit: Made360 / Shutterstock.com