But what exactly do we mean by “4D” printing? The fourth dimension is time, so wouldn’t it make sense that 3D printers are already fourth dimensional to begin with? The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong in Australia can help explain what they mean by 4D printing.
Just as 3D printing has begun to infiltrate industry and the family home, researchers have started to develop 3D printed materials that morph into new structures, post production, under the influence of external stimuli such as water or heat – hence the name, 4D printing. So instead of a rigid object with limited capabilities, researchers are working to print materials that can morph into something new after it’s been printed, kind of like a Transformer toy. This could help set the pace for a new revolution in additive manufacturing!
This ground-breaking science promises advancement in many different fields, like medicine, construction, automation and robotics to name a few. For the moment, ACES researchers have turned their attention to the medical field of soft robotics. You remember soft robotics, right? Well, researchers were able to manufacture a valve that actuates in response to water temperature.
“The cool thing about it is, is it’s a working functioning device that you just pick up from the printer. There’s no other assembly required,” says ACES Professor Marc in het Panhuis speaking about the cleverness of the valve’s creation to Phys.org. The valve, a 3D printed structure, contains actuators that are activated solely by water. “It’s an autonomous valve, there’s no input necessary other than water; it closes itself when it detects hot water.”
It’s sort of like bioprinting with human tissues—except these materials are the equivalent of organs for machines. It won’t be long now until we’ll be able to print structures that are so flexible and transformative that even machines will look very different in the future. Soon we could be manufacturing 3D and 4D printed objects on an industrial scale and change the world for good. It feels really weird to say, but 3D printing is slowly going to become a thing of the past if 4D printing takes off like we hope it does!
photo credit: Phys.org