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This year 3D printing turned 30 years old and it has emerged as one of the fastest growing technologies with endless opportunities. The price of 3D printing has fallen below $1,000 and recently a Chinese company launched world’s first affordable personal 3D scanner and printer.

What is the 4th dimension in 4D printing?

Now the researchers are working on “smart” materials which can change shape by themselves and hence 3D printing is moving into the next dimension i.e. 4D printing (also known as adaptive additive manufacturing).

4D printing is a recently coined popular term which may be attributed to an object which changes shape over the time. 4D printing adds time to the length, width and height of the objects. With the addition of time (a stimulus), objects get adaptive and self-evolving capabilities.

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A 3D printed object changing shape in response to a stimulus which is basically 4D printing

Although this concept isn’t new, the amount of interest being shown by scientists to produce 4D printed objects is now increasing. Shape memory alloy is once such technology in which a temperature change stimulates a shape change. Other processes include use of pressurized fluids, electroactive polymers, chemicals and the response of “smart” materials to light.

Read our special coverage on 3D printing and new advancements here: 3D Printing News by fossBytes.

What research in currently being done?

Recently Nervous System design studio, Massachusetts developed a fully wearable dress printed in one single piece using 4D printing technology.

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A Fully wearable dress printed in one single piece using 4D printing technology

Researchers at MIT, Autodesk and Stratasys are working on some secret materials to develop new and economically feasible 4D printing applications. They are combining various types of polymers and fibers that have the shape-changing ability in response to a stimulus like heat or water. Skylar Tibbits from Massachusetts Institute of Technology is leading this research along with Stratasys which is a digital manufacturing company in 4D printing.

“We asked if we could print things that change shape and change properties to behave in precise programmed ways. We call it 4D because it adds time (considered the fourth dimension), rather than printing static objects,” said Tibbits.

The researchers have used two materials to create 3D printed objects with adaptive properties. One is a water absorbent material which is a formula developed by Stratasys and is a secret. The other is a stiff plastic in a rigid state. They’ve created a 15 x 15 inch square grid from the water absorbent material and it can produce complex geometrical structures.

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Shapeshifting: 3D printed materials that change shape over time. Dan Raviv/Scientific Reports

Dr. Dan Raviv from MIT Media Lab says: “Our approach was to print 3D structures using materials with different properties: one that remained rigid and another that expanded up to 200% of its original volume. The expanding materials were placed strategically on the main structure to produce joints that stretched and folded like a bendy straw when activated by water, forming a broad range of shapes. For example, a 3D-printed shape that resembled the initials MIT was shown to evolve into another formation that looks like the initials SAL.”

What is next?what-is-4d-printing-MIT-3D-printing

There is a wide range of applications and products which can adapt to heat or moisture to improve functionality. The applications include clothes or footwear that change their form by reacting to environment changes. 4D printing can also be used for pre-programmed self-deforming materials in health care industry which can be implanted inside human body. Dr. Raviv says, “for things that go inside body, we want to go 10 to 100 times smaller. For home appliances, we want to go 10 times larger.”

3D is already making headlines each day and adding the 4th dimension of time can produce some mind-boggling results in the future.

Via: The Conversation‘s article of  Dan Raviv, Postdoctoral Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology


  Read our special coverage on 3D printing and new advancements here: 3D Printing News by fossBytes.


Adarsh Verma
Fossbytes co-founder and an aspiring entrepreneur who keeps a close eye on open source, tech giants, and security. Get in touch with him by sending an email — [email protected]