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4D Printing: The Future of Printing

A lot of people don’t know this but, 3D printing isn’t new to the world; just like SolidFace, it’s been around for a really long time. Care to guess how long? Let’s just say it’s been around for 30 years. And, it has seen applications in several industries as it continues to improve. As 3D printing technology continues to bloom, another facet of the future begins to take its first breath, 4D Printing.

Now, 4D printing is the future of additive manufacturing, and if you’re wondering how we can add a fourth dimension to an already successful three-dimensional print? Or how 4D would change the world? Then you should stick around because, today, we’re going to explore all that 4D printing has to offer, so you know where the future is headed, and how to get yourself ready for it.

Here’s what we’d be going through:

What is 4D Printing?

Just like we said earlier, 4D printing is still in its early stages, but unlike 3D Printing that builds objects layer by layer, 4D printing doesn’t just print objects in 3D but gives them the combined ability to change their shape over time, so they can adapt to the changes in the materials external environment. And if you’re still wondering what the fourth dimension is, then know that time is the fourth dimension.

4D printing is a careful blend of 3D printing, advanced software, high-level engineering, and material science. The materials involved have an important role to play in that they’re specially designed to react to specific conditions/stimuli. These conditions (changes in light, temperature, humidity, chemical concentration, magnetic fields, wind, and other environmental factors) can cause the printed objects to change their shape, and adapt to these new conditions.

And when these conditions change, the 4D printed material can either fold or unfold itself according to a predesigned shape. True enough, this possibility of shape-shifting materials, opens a fresh and exciting path to the possibilities our future holds.

One possibility has recently been explored by engineers at MIT, seeks to combine 4D technology, design, and programmable materials in such a way that it can practically assemble itself. This would lead to hands-free product assembly, construction, and manufacturing.

3d printers can also print 4d models

How Does 4D Printing Work

4D Printing uses regular 3D printers but instead of using regular filaments, it uses smart materials like shape memory polymers or hydrogels because the thermomechanical properties of these smart materials allow the printed object to change its shape, unlike regular 3D printed objects that cannot alter their shapes to respond to external conditions.

Imagine the changes 4D printed self-assembly boxes would have on the global economy if boxes could instantly flatten or assemble themselves when an external stimulus is applied.

As sci-fi crazy as that sounds, it wouldn’t only make the entire process of packing and unpacking easier, but it’d save businesses a whole lot of money, and time that could be spent tackling other crucial issues.

And for 4D printed materials to perform their roles effectively, a trigger mechanism is highly needed.

Trigger Mechanisms                                                    

You already know that what makes 4D Printed material special is the ability to change shape. But to achieve these transformations, we need trigger mechanisms to activate the process, and this triggers usually includes water, light, heat, etc. but it doesn’t end with these trigger mechanism because they need to go hand-in-hand with special materials.

Special materials are considered ‘programmable,’ and can execute their 3D printed ‘genetic code’ whenever they’re triggered. The research focused on ‘programming’ these smart objects have made a lot of progress over the years. They’ve successfully configured the object’s desired shape into the micro-structure of standard materials.

Without trigger mechanisms, 4D printed materials would never be as effective as they were designed to be.

4D Printing works by integrating the time component seamlessly into a 3D printed material, which in turn adds more value to the object. And although smart materials must be carefully programmed, this programming must also utilize time-dependent material deformations.

Consider the 4D printed materials that fold automatically when exposed to heat. For them to be effective, the spatially variable pattern printed with several shape memory polymers must each have a different reaction time to heat so that they can be activated at just the right sequence. With all this said, the choice of what material to use for 4D printing is crucial to its success.

Take the artificially printed, temperature-responsive hand, printed from Thermal Polyurethane, TPU, a temperature-responsive filament. This artificially printed hand can expand and contract in response to specific temperatures that act as the trigger for the hand.

4d printing is the future

How Is 4D Printing Different From 3D Printing

Although they’re lots of differences between 3D printing and 4D printing, the major difference between these two methods of printing lies in the simple fact that the additional dimension allows a 3D material to change its shape over time.

But that hasn’t stopped lots of people from considering 3D and 4D printing technology as two sides of the same coin. Why? Because 4D printed objects are printed just like every other 3D object. The only difference being the use of smart materials.

What Does It Print

Unlike 3D printing which boasts of a wide variety of printable materials, 4D printing doesn’t, because the technology involved is still very young. So, here’s a breakdown of some of the materials that’d work with 4D printing.

Smart Memory Polymers (SMP)

Smart Memory Polymers are materials that can store, preserve a macroscopic shape for some time, and then return to its original shape when it is activated by heat. The beauty of Smart Memory Polymer is the fact that they aren’t any residual deformation when it returns to its designed shape.

It’s also worth noting that although SMPs are primarily triggered by heat, they can also be triggered by electric fields, magnetic fields, and even water.

Liquid Crystal Elastomers (LCE)

Just as the name liquid crystal elastomers suggests, this 4D printing material contains heat-sensitive crystal liquids. Therefore by controlling how these crystals are arranged, it becomes possible to program their desired shape, so that when their surrounding temperature changes, they’ll either expand or contract according to their programmed code.

medicine stands to benefit from 4d technology
4D Printing technology would redefine the medical industry.

Hydrogels

Hydrogels are basically polymer chains mostly consisting of water, specifically used in the photopolymerization process. Hydrogels are biocompatible, so hopefully, in the future, we’d get to utilize them to their full potential in the medical sector.

Multi-Materials

Besides the materials we’ve listed above, 4D printing also works with multi-materials, which is basically composite materials like wood and carbon fibers added to SMPs, or hydrogels. It’s also worth noting that 4D printing also works beautifully with ceramic materials.

That said, a very sound knowledge of material science is required to understand how each of these materials would react to stimuli, thereby facilitating 4D printing in the process. And once this knowledge has been gleaned, 3D printing technology capable of taking note of the fourth dimension is then used to print the material.

3d and 4d printed organs are possible

Advantages of 4D Printing

4D printing might still be in its early stages, but it has already begun displaying its potential value to the manufacturing and construction industries all over the world, and here’s how it’s adding value to the world:

Size Changing Materials

This is obviously the most lauded advantage 4D printing brings to the world.

Through its self-assembly, 4D printing has revolutionized what it means to print materials since 4D materials can assume secondary shapes, large materials can be printed in small printers by simply assuming their secondary forms, something that wasn’t possible with 3D printers.

Now imagine printing a flat board that instantly transforms itself into a table when the temperature changes or light is introduced. Printing the flat board is a lot more convenient than printing an entire table.

New, Improved Materials

By introducing new materials to the industry, 4D printing has also introduced new possibilities to the world. By using materials like shape memory polymers, that are able to remember their shapes, and actively transform their physical configuration in the presence of stimuli, 4D printing would introduce the world to a new level of smart materials that we can’t even begin to imagine.

Once again imagine the possibilities 4D printing unveils to the medical world if 4D printed materials can alter their shapes to release medicine whenever a patient gets a fever. That’d be a massive step closer to never falling sick again.

How SolidFace Supports 4D

Just like 4D technology, SolidFace has come to stay. SolidFace is an amazing and easy to use CAD software that comes at a really affordable price and allows its users to create stunning 2D and 3D designs.

SolidFace makes real-time design collaboration with your team wherever in the world very easy, and with the arrival of 4D technology, using SolidFace would not only make creating that model chair easier than you could’ve ever imagined, but also hasten your time to market.

Several engineers and companies trust SolidFace’s ability to help them generate the perfect CAD samples all through the creative process. So, if you haven’t gotten SolidFace yet, you can get it right here.

Applications of 4D Printing

Now that we’ve seen some of the major advantages 4D printing brings to the manufacturing industry, it’s time we see how it’s currently applied in the industry, and how the potential of this brilliant technology can be applied in the future.

Self-Repair System

One possibility that 4D printing brings is the ability for materials to repair themselves whenever damages like cracks happen to them. The materials heal themselves by leveraging on their ability to adjust in response to external changes in the environment.

This also means that 4D printing materials would be able to alter their shape, like in the case of a piping system that can adjust their shape to offer increased delivery of fluid whenever demand increases.

Self-Assembly Furniture

Like we said earlier, this is the most fascinating potential 4D printers bring to the world. With self-assembly, it won’t just be possible to print large materials in smaller printers but to print materials, like chairs, that wouldn’t only transform into chairs in the presence of external stimuli, but also adjust to accommodate an increase in the weight of its occupant.

And when it comes to creating design models for 4D printing, SolidFace is an outstanding option for generating high-quality designs for 3D and 4D printing.

Large Printing For Extreme Conditions With 4D Printing

Big scale projects would really benefit from 4D printing, for example, materials that’d be used in extreme conditions like space can be printed with 4D technology, something that 3D printing space technology cannot meet because of its lack of efficiency, energy consumption, and increased costs.

With its application in printing large scale projects, it becomes a lot more possible to build environmentally adaptable bridges, and skyscrapers that can adjust themselves to deal with any damage the weather throws at them.

4d supports medicine

Medical Applications

One thing that has made 4D printing particularly effective in the industry is its ability to be applied to issues that require delicate attention, like medicine. Besides the delivery of medicine to combat illnesses, 4D printed self-reconfiguring proteins can also be used in the medical industry.

Regenerative medicine is another facet of 4D printing technology that’ll do the medical world a whole lot of good. With 3D technology already capable of fabricating living tissues and organisms, with 4D technology, these parts would be able to regenerate functional replacement tissues if any part suffers damage.

Imagine the possibilities of 4D printed kidneys, livers, and hearts that can never be permanently damaged. The possibilities 4D brings to medicine are limitless.

Fashion

Yes, fashion is not left out when it comes to the diverse application of 4D printing. 4D technology can be used to create clothes that adapt to the weather condition, or activity the wearer is currently engaged in.

This technology would make it possible to have clothes that change their shape when you start running or shoes that allow your feet to breathe when the weather is hot, but become waterproof when it starts raining.

4D Tech met fashion at the 2016 New York fashion week where two unique dresses were unveiled for the world to see. Although the pieces were designed to mimic natural animal textures, they were created from enhanced 3D printing material and featured the interlocking weaves we’ve come to associate with 3D printed material.

Aerospace

With SpaceX’s success with the re-useable rockets, it shouldn’t surprise you that mankind hasn’t relented in expanding what is possible with modern space travel. NASA has begun implementing the use of 3D and 4D technology to develop materials that’ll allow astronauts to initiate repairs, and build essential structures in space.

4d would printing boosts construction

Construction

Well, this shouldn’t surprise you. 4D technology in collaboration with SolidFace would revolutionize the housing and construction industry. The use of massive 3D printers to create homes is something that’s of particular interest to engineers especially in its application to alleviating the suffering of thousands in underdeveloped countries.

4D would really boost global response in the case of natural disasters and emergencies, that would’ve otherwise crippled a vicinity.

The Future of 4D Printing

Although we’ve successfully outlined the advantages 4D printing offers, and how it can be applied to solve real-world problems, it is important to know that the technology is still in its early stages, so lots of areas remain unexplored and untested.

For one, what is the structural strength of smart materials? Even if they appear strong today, would they still maintain that strength over time? And besides the structural strength of smart materials, would they be able to respond to stimuli, and perform their duties after a long while?

Very few answers exist to these questions, maybe because 4D printing technology isn’t as widespread as 3D technology and requires very good material and manufacturing control, and a lot of technical knowledge to fully run tests, and grasp their implications.

Which might eventually end up to be something that might limit the growth of 4D printing, being that only few scientists around the world are currently engaging in research that may, in the near future, yield brilliant breakthroughs in the world.

Without a doubt, 4D printing has come to stay and would play an important role in the success of tomorrow. Who knows, it might even be the stepping stone to something much better in the future.

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