4D Printing is the Next Big Thing in Design and Manufacturing

3D printing has taken the world by storm. The latest application is for on-demand creation of replacement parts. A 3D printer is be installed on the International Space Station for replacing faulty parts.

In 10-20 years 3D printing may be come fast enough for bulk manufacturing of car components, including metal engine parts once the challenges of 3D metal printing have been solved.

The latest news is the addition of a 4th Dimension for the process heralding the era of 4D printing.

This article provides insights into the exciting potential of 4D printing.

3D printing from a software template is becoming more sophisticated using multiple materials, including metals. It is also getting faster and may be suitable for mass production in the near future
3D printing from a software template is becoming more sophisticated using multiple materials, including metals. It is also getting faster and may be suitable for mass production in the near future | Source
This shows one concept for the 4th Dimension for a 4D printer. Special hinges can be designed that can be triggered to assemble the component. The example is a self assembling box design triggered by heating, stretching and cooling of the hinges.
This shows one concept for the 4th Dimension for a 4D printer. Special hinges can be designed that can be triggered to assemble the component. The example is a self assembling box design triggered by heating, stretching and cooling of the hinges. | Source

What is the 4th Dimension?

Recent research publications describe the various aspects of the process.

Essentially the '4 dimension' represents change or dynamics for the printed elements in the 'time dimension':

► Shape of the object can be deliberately changed after being printed

► A single object can have multiple forms

► Objects can self-assemble. For example, objects can be designed and printed in 'flat-pack' form with dynamic hinges and other components. A box can be printed flat, but can self-assemble into a 3D cube using heat or some other trigger.

► Many other 'time' related post-printing processes can be developed to make 3D printing more efficient and overcome some of the limitations. Objects can be printed 'flat' and in other forms that are easier to manufacture and then be transformed after printing.

► Objects printed with a single color may be transformed into multiple colors after manufacture using various triggers. Similarly objects can be designed to have colors that change dynamically in response to temperature, light of other triggers.

4D printing concepts were only conceived in 2013, initially for self-assembly. New concepts have developed around the idea of creating composite materials and simple shapes that can be morphed into complicated 3D shapes with different properties using physical triggers such as heat or infrared light.

Chemicals, water gases and electrical signals can also be used. The transformation could be reversible.

For example a component could be made as a flat object for shipping and then transformed by heating and stretching. Cooling and other processes could be used to make the objects flat once again.

Objects could also be made also have multiple properties or functions depending on their environment.

One obvious application is to develop 'smart' hinges made with laminates that can be designed with thermo-mechanical properties to transform to complex three-dimensional shapes when heated or cooled. This includes: coiling, bending, stiffening, twisting and folding into complex shapes that would be difficult or time-consuming to print using a 3D printer.

Self-assembly is an obvious application.

4D printing requires the development of composite, malleable materials that can be changed in time.

The reference describes the process of printing multi-layered composite hinges and other forms from a CAD file that have controllable and dynamic thermo-mechanical behaviors and properties. The hinges include special glassy polymer fibers that can be switched to various inbuilt shapes using triggers such as tension, stress, strain and stretching, combined with heating and cooling.

Many other triggers can be used, including exposure to infrared and other light beams, or ultrasonic sounds. Infrared light is widely used to set various adhesives.

This and other post-production processes, including electrical ones could be used as triggers.

4D Printing is the next exciting phase of 3D Printing Design and Manufacturing Processes.

© 2013 Dr. John Anderson

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Comments 3 comments

Jason Matthews profile image

Jason Matthews 3 years ago from North Carolina

Wow this is incredible. I didn't even know about 3D printing, so I am really impressed. Thanks for sharing!


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

Had heard about 3 and 4D printing. It will be interesting if it can be made cheap enough to be cost effective.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

I think Flash Gordon would be impressed! (For those of you who don't know he was the science fiction comic book character that wowed the world many years ago.)

Technology will continue to advance and things that amaze us today will one day be common place.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

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