4D Printing – A Future Technology

3D printed ball

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.

4D 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. The term 4D Printing is first introduced by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, 3D printing manufacturer Stratasys, and 3D software company Autodesk.

What is 4D Printing?

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 special material & designs which give the ability to the material to change its shape, color, etc. It is also known as 4D Bioprinting.

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 used to create 3D Objects with the 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.

How 4D Printing Works :

4D Printing technology uses 3D Printer to create 4D objects by using smart material such as Hydrogel, Shape Memory Polymer (SMP), which may have a different color. Using external agents such as light, electricity, or magnetic field on created static structure results in an intelligent dynamic structure that will change its shape & color with the period.

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 happened 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 it Hydrogel which changes its shape when it contacts with water. There is great research & it will be used 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. This 4D printed water valves close when it get contacts with hot water & reopens when this temperature becomes low using Hydrogel. These 4D printed valves will be widely used in Biotechnology & Medical use in the future.

Application of 4D Printing:

The following are the application which will be used all over the world.

a) Aerospace Industry-

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

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

b) Clothing Industry –

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

c) Healthcare Industry –

This technology is used to develop artificial tissues & organs like print skins, which 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 flow rate of fluid & its supply, the pipe will change its diameter.

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 material has low strength, the surface texture is too rough, raw material cost is also too high. These limitations are 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 doing research to develop this printing technology.


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