Rapid enhancement to the existing technologies is helping every industry to change their working style. New emerging technologies are enhancing the manufacturing speed, minimizing the cost of industrial processes, etc. Technical experts are conducting continuous research and development to improve efficiency. One such improvement is the 4D Printing.
TED professor Skylar Tibbits first introduced the term 4D printing in his speech at the MIT Conference in February 2013.
4D Printing is an improved version of 3D Printing. 3D printing technology is available for the past 30 years now. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of laying layer over layer until a 3-dimensional object is created from a digital file. Even complicated shapes can be produced with minimal material using 3D Printing than a traditional method. In 4D Printing, an additional “D” (dimension) is added, which is “Time.” A revolutionary change brought in 4D Printing over 3D Printing is its capability of changing shape over time due to the application of controlled impact of external sources like pressure, air, heat, water, etc. However, the ability to reverting to its original shape (self-assembly technology) was a challenge that involved human intervention. However, in recent years, researchers from the Singapore University of Technology, in collaboration with Nanyang Technological University, came up with a solution of reverting to the original shape by using VeroWhitePlus and TangoBlackPlus.
Active materials such as shape memory polymers are used to create a solid shape which, when activated in a controlled manner, changes its present shape to another required shape and returns to its original shape. It is because of the chemical reaction which takes place on the materials used in manufacturing. It is a type of programmable matter, after the fabrication of printed objects, it reacts with the environment like heat, humidity, and other parameters and changes its form, size, etc.
“While reversible 4D Printing in itself is a great advancement, using a more robust material while ensuring a more precise reversal during shape change is revolutionary as it allows us to produce complex structures that cannot be easily achieved through conventional fabrication. By relying on environmental conditions instead of electricity, it makes it a game-changer across various industries, completely changing the way we design, create, package, and ship products,” said Professor Chua Chee Kai, lead researcher and Head of Engineering Product Development in SUTD.
4D printing technology makes use of materials such as single shape memory polymers, liquid crystal elastomers, composite hydrogel, SMP composites, SMP multi-material, and other multifunctional material because of their thermomechanical properties and other material properties. Due to their properties, they are called “Smart Materials,” which maintains a temporary shape and comes back to their original shape over the impact of external sources.
Few Advantages of 4D Printing:
- An object fabricated by 4D printing technology using smart materials when brought into contact with external sources, like heat, water, etc., reacts and changes its form and size as programmed. It enables us to fabricate objects which are much larger than the size of the printer.
- Size enhancement: For instance, if a water pipe is fabricated by 4D Printing using smart materials, depending upon the pressure of water, the diameter of pipe changes and regains its original shape when the pressure is removed.
- Increase the capabilities of the printed products
- Improve manufacturing efficiency
- Reduce manufacturing cost
Application areas of 4D printing may include but not limited to
Architecture: Buildings that are entirely self-assembled can be delivered in the form of flat sheets to the site, and upon applying proper stimuli, take the shape of the building.
- Clothing and footwear
- Health care/Medical industry
- Home appliances
- Smart devices
- Tissue engineering
Market Trend and Forecast
Patent Filing Trend:
Filings of patents on 4D printing was started in the year 2014 and is eventually raising.
China seems to have a maximum number of patents filed on 4D printing when compared with other countries.
The graph below provides us the details of the top 10 geographies with the number of patents they hold.
“Harbin Institute of Technology” holds the maximum number of patents on 4D printing followed by “Huazhong University of Science & Technology.” The chart below shows the Top 20 Assignees in 4D printing technology.
The demand for 4D Printing is expected to rise drastically. It is anticipated that very soon, the 3D Printing will be completely replaced by 4D Printing.
4D Printing, 4D Bioprinting, Active Origami, Shape-morphing system, Smart Material
Disclaimer: The growth and forecast are made without considering the present pandemic situation