3D printing technology has existed for nearly 30 years. However, while the industry is still discovering new applications, materials, and printers, another technology is gaining attention: 4D printing.
But how is it possible to add a fourth dimension to printed products? In 4D printing, a 3D printing object transforms into another structure through the influence of environmental stimuli such as light, wind, and temperature.
What is the fourth dimension?
In a very simple way, the 3D printing repeats the 2D structure layer by layer, until a 3D volume is created. The working principle of 4D printing is similar to 3D; but it will change over time and eventually serve as the fourth dimension of the object.
So the significant advance of 4D printing technology over 3D is its ability to change shape even after it’s ready. This transformation is possible because 4D printers use programmable and advanced materials that can change the behavior of 3D objects over time.
4D Printing Utilities
This new way of printing promises to revolutionize the world of materials as we know it today. It encourages the research and development of programmable raw materials capable of reacting to triggers and thus transforming themselves. In practice, 4D printed objects can bring improvements in several sectors:
Civil Construction: 4D enthusiasts say the technology could be the solution for building bridges, shelters, or any installation, as the objects themselves could be built or repaired in case of weather damage. Another possible application in this field would be the construction of plumbing systems; that change in diameter according to the flow and demand of water. It can automatically self-repair if it suffers any damage due to its ability to change in response to environmental changes.
Medicine: cardiologists see in 4D printing a possibility to produce flexible stents, which would enable less invasive surgery. The programmed stents would travel through the human body and, when they reached their destination, they would open.
Fashion: According to MIT, 4D-printed clothes can change depending on the weather or the activity performed by the wearer. For example, shoes can change shape during a run to provide better comfort and cushioning.
Despite all its potential, 4D printing still requires more research and development, and it’s not available to everyone. Most likely, in some time, we will come across 4D-printed objects without even knowing it, as in the case of adjustable medical implants or running shoes for the sportsmen on duty.