3D Printed Items that Remember Their Shape?

Three dimensional printing is a unique and special type of technology that will one day—if it hasn’t already—change the world. Its power is unlimited. The global energy juggernaut Shell is already using 3D printing to maximize engineering and construction efficiency while drastically decreasing costs. Soon, others will follow. Lots of others. Here’s why:

During the 3D printing process, layer upon layer of material is stacked to create uniquely designed and shaped objects. Once the printing process is done, the object takes on a single form—which limits its ability to maintain its original integrity if its manipulated. This has been a problem.

Until recently.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have teamed up to create four dimensional printing technology.


4D Technology

All real world objects have the three dimensions of length, width, and depth. This is where the term 3D comes from. The term 4D would seem to have a simple definition, but it doesn’t.

4D is not just an added dimension. The fourth dimension is that of time. Time isn’t a physical property like length, width, and depth. This is why 4D technology can be tricky—it’s a whole different level of science.


How 4D Printing Technology Works

As previously mentioned, the major flaw with 3D printing is that it creates a finished product that can be manipulated over time. 4D printing eliminates this by using “shape memory polymers” to help objects return to their original shape after they’ve been affected by age, light, heat, or electricity. The polymers allow even the most radically distorted objects to be returned to original form. The researchers have conducted experiments where objects exposed to extreme heat and cold retained their original form once the temperature returned to normal.

In addition, the researchers are experimenting with programming the polymers. If the polymers can be programmed to shape themselves, it will allow printers to make very tiny objects that evolve—gaining size and shape—on their own.


How 4D Printing Technology Can Benefit Us

The true benefits of 4D technology are yet to be seen; however, they’re expected to be numerous, and across multiple disciplines. Including:

  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • Medical imaging
  • Cancer treatments
  • Architecture
  • Space exploration
  • Robot technology

The prediction is that once 4D printing takes off, it will become extremely effective and popular—we just don’t know to what magnitude.

4D printing is an extremely exciting new type of technology. Right now, it’s still being studied and researched. One day—hopefully in the near future—it can revolutionize the way our world works. The benefits can be monumental. Let’s hope that the best is yet to some.