Did you know the 4D printing industry is expected to be worth upwards of $537 million by 2025 and grow by a CAGR of 42.95% between 2019 and 2025? This is being driven by the need to reduce the costs of manufacturing and processing in the face of an increasing focus to ensure a sustainable environment. Today, I’m diving into the top 4 questions about 4D printing:

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  1. What is the difference between 3D and 4D printing?

    4D printing is similar to 3D printing since it uses the same techniques of computer-programmed “printing” of layered materials to create a three-dimensional object. However, during the fabrication process of 4D printing, the printed produce reacts to external stimuli — heat, water, chemical, pressure, etc. — to self-assemble or change

    It’s a further evolution of 3D printing and is set to completely alter how we create and produce materials by adding the dimension of transformation over time into the creation process.
  2. How does 4D printing work?

    4D printing involves 3D printing objects that can self-assemble and transform based on some external stimuli. For example, a table that assembles itself when you touch a part, or an airplane wing that transforms with wind speed, or a temperature-activated cardio stent.

    In order to make something “4D” — assemble itself or change precisely under certain conditions — a precise geometric code is used based on the object’s angles and dimensions, as well as measurements that dictate how it should change shape when interacting with outside forces.

    It’s all about self-assembly. The ability to program a particular area of the material and be able to activate it through heat, water, chemical reaction, pressure and many other external influences to actually do self-assembly. Altogether these represent what I believe will be the next industrial revolution and a fundamental transformation in manufacturing overall.

  3. What is 4D printing used for?

    4D printing technology is not merely a novelty, but a necessity due to increasing urbanization caused by world population growth that is expected to reach 8 billion people over the next 30 years. This will cause an increase in “megacities — or cities with populations over 10 million people — from 10 in 1990 to 41 over the next ten years. This rapid urbanization will put an incredible demand on manufacturing and the distribution of materials.

    Numerous organizations are pouring money in 4D printing research and development, including Airbus SAS who is using 4D-related “smart” material that reacts to temperature to cool jet engines and a wing that morphs according to aerodynamic conditions to decrease air resistance. Briggs Automotive Company is developing a morphable wing for its supercar that can adjust to external weather conditions and automatically adjust itself to provide maximum downforce to the car.

    As many of you know, I am a drone aficionado. When I saw this research, I was excited. Engineers at Rutgers University–New Brunswick are fabricating smart materials in 4D that will transform according to their environment. This leads to shock-absorbing materials that will change as needed for use in aircraft or drone design for parts like wings that need to self-alter for varying performance.

    4D printing will also have a profound impact on healthcare of the future. It could be used for tissue engineering, self-assembling human-scale biomaterials, design of nanoparticles, and nanorobots for chemotherapy.

    It doesn’t stop there. You’ll see 4D printing transform and disrupt a variety of industries including consumer products, healthcare, automotive, construction, and aerospace

Overall, how 4D printing evolves in the future is up to the innovators and makers of the world. We must remain open to fresh ideas, new tools, and collaboration from all industries

ICYMI: Answers to Industry 4.0’s Top Questions

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