What is 4D Printing and Could it Change Everything?

What is 4D Printing?

What is 4d printing? Lets start with 3D printing which is formally known as “additive manufacturing”, is being used in an extraordinarily wide range of applications such as human organs, wings of airplanes, nuclear weapons and etc. In fact, a 3D modelling program, such as AutoCAD, design static objects in three dimensions through additive processes in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. “Now a new disruptive technology is on the horizon that may take 3D printing to an entirely new level of capability with profound implications for society, the economy, and the global operating environment of Government, business, and the public”.

4D Printing

4D printing is a new process and adds the capability of programming the fundamental materials used in 3D printing. 4D printing creates objects with dynamics and performance capabilities- that is, they are able to change their form or function after fabrication. These objects can be assembled, disassembled, and then reassembled to form macroscale objects of desired shape and multifunctionality. This technology is based on three key capabilities: the machine, the material and the geometric programme. Skylar Tibbits along with Stratasys, Ltd. and Autodesk, Inc. conducted several experiments by using Stratasys’ Connex multimaterial printer. The Stratasys material research group developed a new polymer which could be expanded 150 percent when submerged in water.

This shows a new possibility for production and manufacturing.

What is 4D Printing?

The printer deposits a rigid polymer material and an active material with an embedded geometric programme and the activation energy to transform from one shape to another, completely independently. This approach has potential implications for areas such as robotics, furniture, and building construction. It is predicted that products become far more resilient and highly tuned to environmental changes including moisture content, temperature, pressure, altitude or sound.

What else can 4D printing do?

It is clear that manufacturing processes will become simpler by using 4D printing. 4DP can print extremely simple structures and then can be activated by external stimulus to change into complex functional structures and systems. In 4DP, when processes are streamlined, creating a complicated shape does not need more time, skill, or cost. The printed materials can be produced, shipped in flat-pack and are activated on delivery to full volume and functionality. All these programmable products can be self-assembled and self-disassembled for pure recyclability.

In addition, 4D printing in combination with cloud computing technologies allows decentralized and geographically independent distributed production. Digital files with a collection of Voxels can be stored in the cloud. Consumers can access the program in the cloud anywhere in the world and then instruct those Voxels to form a multifunctional object.

By Mojgan Afshari


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