4D Printing – A Future Technology


As we know, 3D Printing is one of the emerging technology in recent years. This 3D Printing is also known as additive manufacturing. The first 3D printer was introduced in 1984 by Charles Hull. It was based on the printing technology of Stereolithography. It is the most used technology in modern manufacturing. Let’s see about the 4d printing in detail.

This Printing technology is based on 3D printing but, the main difference is that 3D printed object may change their shape in 4d printing. Hence, This is an innovation in 3D Printing.

What is 4D Printing?

The term 4D Printing is first introduced by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab,

The addition of the fourth dimension to the 3D printing technology is called “4D Printing”. With the help of extra D, 3D Printed objects can change their shape with the help of external stimuli such as light, heat, electricity, or magnetic field.

It uses a special kind of material & designs. These gives the ability to the material to change its shape, color, etc. It is also known as 4D Bioprinting.

How 4D Printing Works :

4D Printing technology uses 3D Printer to create 4D objects by using smart material. These smart materials are Hydrogel, Shape Memory Polymer (SMP), which may have a different color.

After the formation of the object, it is required to test with some external agents.

External agents such as light, electricity, or magnetic field create static structures. It results in an intelligent dynamic structure that will change its shape & color with the period.

Video demonstrating the actual working of the 4D Printing object.

In the above video, one 4D printed object is inserted in hot water. After some time, it automatically gets fold into the other shape. This experiment is from the MIT Self Assembly lab. It demonstrates the actual functionality of the 4D printed object.

3D Printing VS 4D Printing:

3D Printing technology is the process of creating a 3D physical object by printing layer by layer in the CAD model. Polycarbonate, Nylon, Carbon, Nanomaterial, or ABS are key materials to create 3D Objects with 3D Printing.

It is the process of creating a 3D object which can change their shape over time with the help of external agents such as heat, light, or electricity. 4D printing technology is a combination of 3D Printing, Special material & customized design.

Description3D Printing4D Printing
Dynamic Shape– Not changes– Color, shape, function, etc changes.
Raw material used– Metal & alloys
– Nanomaterials
– Thermoplastics (ABS)
– Biomaterials & gels
-Shape Memory Polymer (SMP)
– Shape Memory Alloys(SMA)
– Self-assembled materials
– biomaterials & Hydrophilic polymers.

Application of 4D Printing:

The following are the application which is using all over the world.

a) Aerospace Industry-

NASA has developed special a flexible metal fabric. It can be used as a shield to space antennas or astronaut spacesuits.

Airbus Ltd & MIT has developed programmable carbon fiber inlet components to cool the engine automatically by maintaining airflow.

b) Fashion & Clothing Industry –

Shoes that become waterproof in the rainy season or any atmospheric condition.
The clothes using by the military camouflage, cool, and/or insulate soldiers by reacting to different environmental conditions.

c) Healthcare Industry –

This technology is using to develop artificial tissues & organs like print skins. They change their shape depending upon time & condition.

d) Self-repairing Piping –

In the plumbing system, the self-repairing pipe is created by 4D Printing. Depending upon the pressure, the flow rate of fluid & its supply, the pipe will change its diameter.


  • Due to its size & shape-changing property, it can be used for various applications in the piping, healthcare & agricultural sectors.
  • Increase efficiency of the system.
  • It helps to reduce the manufacturing cost required for a variety of applications.
  • Use of one system for more than one application as per requirement.

Challenges & Future Opportunities:

Even though, this is a new technology. But, it can overcome to solve many real-time problems in the manufacturing industry. This has to face many challenges.

One of the great challenges is the limitation of 3D printing. 3D printing materials are of low strength & the surface texture is rough. The raw material cost is also high. These limitations are going to overcome in 4D printing.

All this potential application mentioned above seems very interesting & inspiring for the future. Even we are in the research phase. But, we can’t wait to see how it looks like.?

This technology requires more research & it is not available for everyone. 4D printing companies are researching to develop this printing technology.

4D Printing Companies :

a) MIT’s Self Assembly Lab-

Assistant professor Skylar Tibbit at MIT says in Ted Talks that he is always interested in 3D printing technology. He is curious about what happens when the object is getting to change its shape with accuracy.

In 2004, MIT permits to Tibbit to open his Self Assembly Lab to start his research. Now, MIT Lab working with 3D Software company Autodesk & 3D printer manufacturer Starsys on 4D Printing.

b) WYSS Institute for Biological Inspired Engineering –

A team of scientists at Harvard WYSS Institute for biological Inspired Engineering working on special ink called Hydrogel. It can change its shape when it contacts water.

There is great research & it will be using in the printing industry to achieve specific, measurable & accurate results.

c) The University of Wollongong –

Professor Marc in het Panhuis & his colleagues from the University of Wollongong, Australia invented the first 4D printed water valve. These 4D printed water valves close when they get in contact with hot water. And reopens when this temperature becomes low using Hydrogel.

These 4D printed valves will be widely applicable for Biotechnology & Medical use in the future.

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