3D Printing is passé. 4D Technology is the Future

October, 2018

4D printing technology is the future of manufacturing sector. We are conditioned to think of objects in terms of length, breadth and width. Now, imagine if those objects could be folded, changed or transformed into other items in response to varying conditions. That would make it an ideal situation where those objects or structures can be packed, transported or used in environments where time, money and effort are highly valued resources.

4D printing technology your conventional 3D printing that infuses time as the fourth dimension. Also known as the active origami or 4D bioprinting, here the printed objects after the fabrication process reacts to external stimuli like temperature, humidity, mechanical force or magnetic field to re-shape or re-assemble into a new product.

4D printing concept involves five components – the additive manufacturing (AM) process, types of stimulus-responsive material, stimuli, interaction mechanism, and mathematical modelling additive manufacturing methods.

Smart materials for 4D printing

Programmable materials or smart materials can transform with interactions with the external environment. This is a scientific approach to engineering and materials that emphases on substances that can be programmed to change its functionality at the molecular level to reshape itself. One application of programmable matter is 4-D printing. The trigger or stimuli is the key for this transformation. The transformational characteristics of smart materials include self-sensing, responsiveness, shape memory, self-repair, self-adaptability, and multifunctionality.

Typically, the smart materials can be classified into

  • Shape change material – These materials possess the shape-change effect (SCE) behavior, wherein they transform instantly and spontaneously in response to its stimulus. The original or permanent shape is retained when the stimulus is removed.

  • Shape memory material (SMM) – Also known as the Shape memory polymers (SMP), they have the ability to memorize and recover to their trained shape from a temporary shape when stimulus is applied.

The main premise of the 4D printing technology is the ability to recover to their programmed shape from a temporary shape when stimulus is applied. Two processes are required for SMMs to form a complete shape memory cycle.

  • Programming process: Deform the material into a temporary shape

  • Shape recovery process

The SMMs will retain their temporary structure until the right stimuli is given to trigger the recovery process.


Future Applications of 4D Printing

4D technology is a relatively new advance in bio fabrication technology, rapidly emerging as a new paradigm in disciplines such as bio-medical, computer sciences, materials science, aerospace, defence bioengineering and chemistry industries.

If researchers and manufacturers can get it to work, 4-D printing could change our entire idea of manufacturing. There are numerous hurdles and limitations before widespread practical applications of 4D technology is feasible.

Dependency on the physical infrastructure of the 4D printer coupled with geometric limits and the slow printing process will be the major challenges faced by vendors in this potentially huge market. MIT Self-Assembly Lab, Autodesk and Stratasys are some of the major vendors in this market.

While 3D printing is the current technology, the scale for 4D printing presents new opportunities. Get in touch with Infoholic Research analyst on the latest market trends, opportunities and scope of both 3D and 4D printing technologies here inquiry[at]infoholicresearch[dot]com

– Shantha Kumari,
Sr. Technical Writer,
Infoholic Research