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The shape of things to come … Programmable Materials

Posted on January 25th, 2016 by in New Materials & Applications

3D printing (also called additive manufacturing) is a process for making a physical object from a 3D digital model by laying down many successive thin layers of materials. Over the 30 years since its invention, 3D printing has earned the reputation of coming up with novel designs both for consumer and commercial applications. Even as the materials, technology and applications for 3D printing is evolving scientists and engineers are already entering into the fourth dimension with 4D printing.

Developed by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, 4D printing presents an entirely new world of possibilities. It is the next step in the evolution of 3D printing which adds the dimension of time to the traditional 3D printing process.

Through 4D printing, a 3D printed object can change its shape after it is printed, in response to external environment such as water or heat. 4D printing relies on the special materials it uses with unique property of self-transformation when exposed to certain environmental stimuli or energy source. Professor Skylar Tibbits, the director of Self-Assembly Lab first introduced the concept of 4D Printing at a TED Conference in 2013:

4D printing allows the manufacture of objects that transform with time, essentially allowing objects to be “programmed” to behave in certain manner. The prospects of such programmable materials are numerous:

  • On space missions astronauts can take 4D printed objects with them which can transform into desired objects/structures despite the harshness of space
  • For plumbing & sewage structures, 4D printed pipes will have the ability to expand or contract depending on the amount of water passing through them
  • In medicine, 4D printing could reduce surgical procedures by enabling doctors to inject self-transforming materials into the body

Only TIME will tell the SHAPE of THINGS to come…

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