We all have those visits to the mall to buy clothes or shoes for a particular occasion or season. Now imagine buying sneakers that change how they fit on your feet based on what activities you are doing or clothes that change their composition as the weather changes! This is exactly what the future of 4D printing holds for you. And this is just the start! Here we explore what is 4D printing and how this technology can be useful in the future.
So what is 4D Printing all about?
We have all heard about 3D or three dimensional printing which has been existent since the last three decades and it has been used for making clothes, jewellery, medical equipment and what not. In 3D Printing, a 2D structure is repeated in a print path, from the bottom to the top, layer by layer until a 3D volume is created. In 4D Printing, we add another D, the time dimension! So 4D printing is basically 3D printing changing over time. In 4D printing, special materials used to print objects change shape after production. How does this happen? A trigger is used to do this. This trigger may be water, heat, wind and other forms of energy. Special materials are needed to react to these triggers.
A neat way to explain the difference between 3D and 4D is illustrated via the following diagram.
Source: Diagram by Jean-Claude André | Scientific Advisor at INSIS.
4D Printing Companies
4D technology holds a lot of promise and is being developed by many research labs and industrial experts in the current times. Some of these labs and leading companies include MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, 3D printing manufacturer Stratasys, and 3D software company called Autodesk. But there are various others.
MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab and Stratasys collaborated with Autodesk on their developments for a new software called Cyborg. Cyborg is a design platform spanning applications from the nano-scale to the human-scale. This software allows for simulated self-assembly and programmable materials as well as optimization for design constraints. The idea is to combine this cross-disciplinary design tool with the real-world material transformation of 4D printing to eliminate the traditional paradigms of simulating then building or building and then adjusting the simulation.
MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, Assistant Professor Skylar Tibbits is working on taking 4D printing to the next level. In his TED talks, Tibbits explains the exciting future of 4D printing such as how to manufacture sneakers that automatically pull together and become more water resistant when exposed to moisture, or expand and allow more airflow in hot weather. Or your running shoes could become your football shoes or basketball shoes anytime, providing extra support. Awesome! It is quite incredible to imagine the idea that we could soon have shoes that adapt to new conditions and our requirements as and when needed.
Check out Tibbits’ Ted talk here:
Potential Uses of 4D Printing
The U.S. Army has awarded a grant to Harvard University, University of Illinois and University of Pittsburg to research ways in which the military could employ self-assembling objects, raising the possibility of shelters or bridges that spring into shape.
Another possible application of 4D Printing would be pipes of a plumbing system that dynamically change their diameter in response to the flow rate and water demand. Pipes that could potentially mend automatically if they are damaged would save us a lot of money!
Moreover, imagine your tables converting into foldable chairs automatically. Since 3D printing furniture items is restricted by the size of the printer, 4D printing could allow you to just print a flat board that will curl up into a chair by using triggers such as light.
Check out the video below to get an idea!
The future of 4D printing technology is nearly here. Although 4D printers have not hit the stores just yet, you might just stumble upon 4D technology in many art and architectural exhibitions to experience this futuristic technology first-hand!