3D printing has played a major role in transforming the supply chain over the past decade. It’s successful application has lead to a simplified, highly responsive, and infinitely flexible supply chain that fulfills the order by putting the customers in charge. This ensures an effective inventory control model. ‘3D printing’ is the name for a group of technologies that builds up and manufactures objects layer by layer. This technology is also known as “Additive Manufacturing” and has been used to manufacture toys, spare parts, cars and even whole houses. By adding the concept of ‘time’ to the 3D printing process, 4D printing uses special material and digital designs that allows a structure to change its shape. This new technology is expected to bring revolution in the industry with its numerous applications in sectors like healthcare, transportation, clothing etc.
To make something “4D,” though, the printer is fed a precise geometric code based on the object’s own angles and dimensions but also measurements that dictate how it should change shape when confronted with outside forces such as water, movement or a change in temperature.
This code sets the direction, the number of times and the angles at which a material can bend and curl when the object is exposed to a range of different environmental stimuli. Pipes, for instance, could be programmed to expand or shrink to help move water; bricks could shift to accommodate more or less stress on a given wall.
Applications of 4D
4D printing could make it much cheaper and easier to build structures in space. It will enable deployment of large structures which initially takes lesser space. The key is temperature control; once the object is printed, it could be heated and folded flat. The change could be later reversed to regain the objects initial shape. Though scientists are yet to perfect this technique enough to erect buildings in outer space, that kind of application could be on the horizon.
Another addition to 4D’s applications include home appliances and products that can adapt to heat or moisture to improve comfort or add functionality. For example, childcare products that can react to humidity or temperature, or sneakers that change how they fit on your feet based on what activities you are doing, or changes in clothing composition based on the weather.
There are also uses for pre-programmed self-deforming materials in healthcare – researchers are printing biocompatible components that can be implanted in the human body.
This enticing 4D printing technology comes with a myriad of uses, which ensures a keen interest in this industry in the upcoming years as new developments facilitates the betterment of our lives.