Forget 3D; the Fourth Dimension is Catching Up

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Such is the astounding capability and utility of 3D printing that not so long ago 3D printing was used to print a human kidney using actual cells as ink! 3D printing is commercially affordable, revolutionary and appears to be pushing the envelope in technology advancement. However, for those who think 3D printing, as it exists, is here to stay for several years, if not decades, might be proven wrong – introducing 4D Printing!

4D Printing sounds like a complicated concept – it’s not! 4D Printing, very simply put, means that printers can create objects that can transform or self-assemble over time or under an appropriate stimulus (water or heat for instance). The transformation or self-assembly part of the printing process is essentially the Fourth Dimension outside the other three obvious dimensions.

4D Printing has some amazing and forward looking applications which is making it “hot property” in technology dependent markets such as – healthcare, defense, manufacturing, construction, fashion, infrastructure and aerospace. Some specific examples showing how powerful applications of 4D Printing can be owing to the transformation and self-assembly capabilities are–

  1. Cancer-fighting Robots and Edible Electronic equipment – 4D Printing could imply that we

    would be able to make small electronic devices which would self-assemble or change based on specific conditions within the human bodyupon injection. In one instance, nanorobots could be created that would kill cancer cells upon detection.

    Cancer Immunotherapy: Antibody Therapy
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  2. Aerospace Applications – The aerospace industry can use 4D Printing by creating self-repairing components including – parts of rockets/planes and even astronaut costumes that would repair and transform without human-intervention.
  3. Building Design – 4D Printing could lead to lighter structures which adapt to the conditions in the vicinity. This could revolutionize the way we build structures.

Currently, commercialization and cheap availability are the issues faced by 4D printing. 3D printing has gained primarily because households can afford the devices for less than $1000 and even specialized printers are not very expensive to produce and use. In order to reach costs that are closer to 3D printing, there is a lot of invention room with respect to 4D printing.

A lion’s share of the current (filed and granted) patents revolve around printing materials that are central to 4D printing. However, there is still vast room for improvement. It will be no surprise to see a big boom in patents filed on 4D Printing especially those revolving around how to make more cost effective and customizable smart materials to provide revolutionary end results.

4D Printing could not only imply newer type of companies but could also imply drastic re-invention of present companies. 4D Printing will also change the face of labor and human intervention… and the impact on consumption of energy on a global scale would be massive.

(Featured image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N-dimensional_sequential_move_puzzle)

Pranav Sharma
Pranav Sharma

Pranav is an absolute patent geek who enjoys toying with numbers and off-beat topics in his blogs. A fan of Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial prowess, his blogs reflect on tech concerns and offer probable solutions.


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