Imagine buying a furniture from an Ikea store and watch it assemble all by itself! This the future of 3D printing with a ‘D’. While researchers are yet to fully utilize the potential of 3D printing technology, they are inventing novice applications and manufacturing 3D printers… (Featured image is intended for representational purpose alone and has been sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:4d_printing_-_Mobile.gif)
Imagine buying a furniture from an Ikea store and watch it assemble all by itself! This the future of 3D printing with a ‘D’. While researchers are yet to fully utilize the potential of 3D printing technology, they are inventing novice applications and manufacturing 3D printers. Science has come up with another interesting technology – 4D printing. 4D printing is an advancement of 3D printing, where a special material is used to print objects that change shape after production.
This emerging technology allows 3D printed objects made of this special material transform itself into another structure by an external stimulus such as temperature, light and sound waves. This technology that can be used to create a programmable matter called 4D Printing. The input is a “smart material”, pre-programmed with code. The material can either be a hydrogel or a shape memory polymer. The code determines the angles, the direction at which the composite material can expand, contract, twist or bend to help it unfurl into the final object desired.
This technology is part of a project researched on at MIT Self-Assembly Lab. Small wood planks were created in the lab that folded into toy elephants when exposed to moisture. As a futuristic vision, the lab plans to create Ikea furniture that assembles itself with a splash of water.
4D printed furniture comes to the fore
US 20150158244 A1, a patent filed by Stratasys Ltd and Massachusetts Institute of Technology defines 4D printing as a combination of 3D printing technology plus the additional dimension of its transformation over time. According to this invention, a 3D printing process can create a printed 3D object that transforms over time from a first printed shape to a second predetermined shape.
Patent application US20170151733A1 by Harvard college discloses a method of 4D printing a hydrogel composite structure that changes its shape with time when exposed to UV light.
According to a report by Markets and Markets, the total 4D printing market is expected to be valued at $537.8 million by 2025. Programmable carbon fiber is expected to hold the largest market share.
Although the technology is very futuristic, and inventors have achieved very little so far in 4D printing, it does seem to have a wide range of amazing applications. A possible aerospace application is 4D printing solar panels for powering space satellites. During the launch, the panels can be built flat and stored compactly, and then the panels can transform into various shapes depending on the outer space requirement.
Another possible application could be making pipes for a plumbing system. It can reduce water wastage as pipes can resize their diameter sensing the rate and intensity of water flow. The pipes can even heal automatically in case of cracks or breakage.
It could also be used in building self-healing roads. It can bridge cracks or potholes on roads by an external stimulus such as water, increasing durability and strength of infrastructure. Shoes can change to become waterproof in rains. Or apparel can thicken when cold and thin itself off in heat.
The United States Army is investing up $855,000 in 4D printing and is funding researchers at The University of Illinois, Harvard’s School of Engineering & Applied Science and The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. This technology will be applied in textile wherein it adopts the chameleon’s color-changing aspect to help soldiers camouflage themselves on the battleground. It can also bend light creating an illusion of hiding them. The textile can also change permeability, thereby protecting soldiers in harsh environment.
More sophisticated research in this field will lead to astonishing inventions, such as self-assembling buildings, adaptive medical implants, and 4D printed soft robots. This technology is surely to look forward to for the betterment of our lives in the world of tomorrow.
(Featured image is intended for representational purpose alone and has been sourced from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:4d_printing_-_Mobile.gif)