The world of technology is a world of wonders. It has not been a long time since the 3D printing technology became widespread that whispers of the newer generation of this technology, i.e. 4D printing, are heard.
3D printing is a process in which a 3D printer creates 3D objects by placing layers of material according to a 3D digital model. The next generation of this technology is related to 4D printers and objects.
4D printing is a process through which a 3D printed object transforms itself into another structure due to the influence of input and external energies such as temperature, light or other environmental stimuli.
Although 3D printing may be a bit established compared to other new technologies, 3D and 4D printing technology will have very wide applications in the future technology and will be one of the applied technologies in the future that will change the world.
What is four-dimensional printing technology?
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, turns digital designs into physical objects by building them layer by layer. 4D printing is also based on the same technology; With a big difference, this technology uses special materials and complex designs that force 3D printing to change shape.
So, basically, 4D printing can be considered a new and updated version of 3D printing, in which special materials are used to change the shape of the product after production. The driver of change can be water, heat, wind or other types of energy.
Who invented 4D printing?
The invention of 4D printing cannot be attributed to one person. This fan print is currently being developed for many large industrial companies and research centers. For example, in 2017, companies or research laboratories such as MIT’s Self Assembly Lab, Stratasys 3D printing factory, and Autodesk 3D software company were among the most important in 4D printing.
However, Australian and Singaporean researchers have made rapid progress in this field. Their participation added a wide range of materials suitable for 4D printing and also helped bring this technology closer to the market.
4D printing versus 3D printing
The technology of printing objects in 3 dimensions is one of the new technologies in the last two decades, which produces a physical piece by using a digital design called CAD .
In this method, the final piece is made by printing a design layer by layer that is printed in 2 dimensions and connecting these layers to each other. In the science of metallurgy, such production methods are called bottom-up . This technology has many advantages and challenges among the manufacturing and production methods, but one of the things that led to the invention of the 4D printing method is the inability to change the shape of the printed parts in the 3D method.
The feature of 4D printing allows structures to change their shape over time. For this reason, there is a need for unique materials and special designs. Because there is a need to design new programs to create 3D structures that can change shape against the presence of external stimuli such as heat, water or light. These smart materials, which can be made of different materials such as hydrogels or memory polymers, have the ability to change shape and have different properties.
Hydrogels can store a lot of water inside. They can also contract or expand under the presence of external stimuli or return to their original state after being deformed.
While the 3D printing process includes instructions for printing materials layer by layer on top of each other, 4D printing adds capabilities to this process that make the importance of using smart materials even more apparent to us. Some of these capabilities are related to codes that include dimensions and geometry angles of the desired object. These capabilities allow the memory material to adapt itself under environmental conditions.
Recent developments in the field of 3D printing
There are many institutions and companies that are currently researching 4D printed shapes and their applications.
The MIT University Laboratory is one of the most famous centers in the world that works in the field of development and design of self-healing technologies and programmable materials to improve their design, production and performance.
This laboratory has recently implemented its activities on a type of programmable wood that can be developed to make self-healing furniture. In this way, you can imagine a 4D printed board that can be turned into a chair by adding some water or heating it up a bit.
The founder of this personal laboratory, named Skylar Tibbits, believes that this technology can be developed in many areas. For example, the fashion and clothing industry is one of the fields that can become the Golan supply of this technology. One of his ideas is to produce clothes whose composition can change in different weather conditions.
However, 4D printing technology has a lot of potential to be used in many different fields of engineering and medicine. For example, in medical science for use in medical implants or mechanical systems that have the ability to change in different environmental conditions.
Researchers at the University of Wollongong, Australia, have produced hydrofoils that close when exposed to hot water and open again using cold water. These patches use hydrogel inks that react when exposed to heat.
4D printing can also be widely used in biotechnology or medical science. For example, 4D printed stents can be placed inside the vessels, moved with the blood flow and opened in the right place. This technology can also be used in the production of medicinal capsules; These capsules are opened by moving and transferring to the right place and inject the medicine to the desired place.
Another example is the production of four-dimensional printable liquid resins by George Washington University researchers, which are cured using light. These resins are derived from oxidized soybean oil acrylate compounds and can be used as scaffolds for the growth of bone stem cells.
Although this technology will not be exclusive to advanced applications and can even be used in the plumbing of our buildings. One of the most common problems seen in domestic plumbing installations is broken and burst pipes. 4D printing will allow us to produce self-healing pipes that repair their own cracks or breaks.
Architecture is another field that can benefit from this technology. For example, imagine movable roofs that will open or close as the weather changes.
As you have seen in this article, 4D printing technology has many different applications and it is expected that, like 3D printing technology, it can create a revolution in the field of manufacturing and production. Although this technology is still at the beginning of its path and it will take a long time to be widely available, but without a doubt, the application of smart materials will be a very attractive development in the field of material science and engineering.