Just when we are waiting 3D printing going into its own, 4D printing technology has come and blown our minds yet again.
It was at the TED conference in Long Beach in February 2013 that Skylar Tibbits, an MIT professor, discussed the possibilities of 4D printing and how it could very well revolutionize the manufacturing world. Alright, so what is 4D about this type of printing?
One normally thinks of ‘time’ as the fourth dimension. If you print something in 3D and that something changes shape or self-assembles over time, you’ve got a 4D printed object. Tibbits has an example. The device that he used is a Stratasys 3D printer designed to produce multi-layered materials. Each part will be comprised of a regular rigid plastic layer, along with an outer layer made of “smart” materials. When submerged in water, the “smart” material absorbs and expands, causing the parts to move and form a pre-specified object. Pretty cool, right?
“Essentially the printing is nothing new, it is about what happens after”, Tibbits says. He is confident that it could be used in all forms of design, construction and manufacture, and stresses that the future of 4D printing will lead to innovative designs that are capable of self-assembly, replication and repair. The big one is space exploration as self-assembly could help NASA and other space agencies reduce costs by simply sending the parts into space, and then those parts self-assemble into an object at the desired location.
In one word, research into 4D printing is only just getting started but is exciting enough for the world. As for whether it can continue to create some undoubtedly amazing things in the future, that is a good thing to look forward to.