Revolutionary 4D Print

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Revolutionary 4D Print

If 3D printing wasn’t enough to capture your attention, now designers and manufactures are discovering the awe inspiring 4 D printing, where the 4th dimension is time.  IFL Science describes 4 D printing in this way “If you can imagine dropping a flat stretchable cloth over a randomly shaped object. The cloth then molds over the shape . The distances and areas alter as  the cloth changes to fit the object,.”  Sounds like some futurist science fiction, but it is being developed today. A place where clothes can detect changes in temperature and environmental changes and adjust according, or even components that can be implanted in the body and change in shape and function over time.

Skylar Tibbits, head of Massachusetts  Institute of Technology’s Self-Assembly Laboratory, pioneered this research several years ago.   With researchers from MIT’s Camera Culture Group and companies like Autodesk Inc, and Stratasys,  the objective of 4 D printing is clearly becoming reality. According to Stratasys , with water as its activation energy, this technique promises new possibilities for embedding programmability and simple decision making into non-electronic based materials.

Stratasys_MIT_Cubefolding_Combined - 4 D printing

Stratasys MIT Cubefolding Combined

Based along the lines of earlier work by Skylar Tibbits,Professor H. Jerry Qi and research partner Martin L. Dunn, created objects that successfully transformed into different shapes. “There is considerable design freedom for creating composites with interesting thermomechanical behaviors based on fiber architecture, shape, size, and orientation, and even the spatial variation of these parameters,” says Qi.

The aim for the future is to produce larger structures which can handle complex transformations. Stratasys believes that “As environmental, economic, human and other constraints continue to fluctuate, we will eventually need dynamic systems that can respond with ease and agility.” 4D printing will have this capability and much more.

Imagine a solar panel built on Earth that is flat, then transformed in a 4D structure in space.  This could alter space exploration as we know it. Wonder what the original rocket scientists of the space race would say about this idea? Science fiction or reality?

If you read articles from 2013, you will see words like “maybe” and “hopefully”. But the articles today are using words like “ improving” and “proof”. Research and development is ongoing and working out details such as in the area of long term durability.  Although it is not available for commercial use, research is continuing and constantly evolving, ever searching for more ways to make our lives better.


Also published on Medium.

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