Article by Tony Nguyen, MLIS, AHIP, Technology & Communications Coordinator, NNLM, SEA Regional Medical Library. Published in the January 16, 2018 edition of MLA News.
Libraries with makerspaces are aware of 3D printers. These specialized printers can turn digital blueprints into a physical object. Complex 3D printed objects may be in pieces that require time to assemble into the final product. 4D printing relies on much of the same technology. However, 4D printers rely on special material and digital designs that allow the 3D printed objects to reshape themselves or self-assemble over time, post production.
Skylar Tibbits, codirector of the Self-Assembly Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is often attributed with coining the term “4D Printing,” as he introduced the concept in a 2013 TED Talk. “Normally, we print things and we think they’re done,” Tibbits says. “That’s the final output and then we assemble them. But we want them to be able to transform and change shape over time; and we want them to assemble themselves” .
With the idea of having the printed objects assemble themselves, Tibbits managed to program the printer with a precise geometric code based on the object’s angles, dimensions, and measurements that dictate how it should change shape when confronted with outside forces. The outside force like water, movement, or temperature, for example, can act as trigger that starts the object’s transformation to begin its program and execute its change of shape.
Potential uses for 4D printing are enticing to many researchers. For city infrastructures, 4D printed water pipes could expand and contract due to changes in season. Additionally, 4D printed items could be used to repair items in space, or shoes could change tread based on changes in weather or in surfaces, such as whether the person is running on pavement versus grass.
Currently, 4D printing is still in research and development as it is a collaborative design concept by industry leaders and research facilities: Self-Assembly Lab, Stratasys, and Autodesk. However, more labs and facilities are prototyping 4D printing to consider its uses. Printing an item in 4D is not yet available in consumer markets, but it is certainly an emerging technology to follow. Over the next several years, 4D printing may become available in library makerspaces as it becomes more readily available.
To learn more about 4D printing, check out a few selected resources:
- Lee J, Kim H, Choi J, Lee I. A review on 3D printed smart devices for 4D printing. Int J Precis Eng Manuf-Green Technol. 2017 Jul;4(3):373–83.
- Momeni F, Mehdi MS, Hassani N, Liu X, Ni J. A review of 4D printing. Mater Des. 2017 May 15;122:42–79.
- Saunders S. 4D printing technique could be used to develop 3d printed human organs for transplant patients [Internet]. 3DPrint.com [cited 8 Jan 2018]. <https://3dprint.com/196141/4d-printing-human-organs/>.
- Young M. 4D printing – all you need to know [Internet]. All3DP; 22 Nov 2017 [cited 8 Jan 2018]. <https://all3dp.com/1/4d-printing/>.
- Rieland R. Forget the 3D printer: 4D printing could change everything [Internet]. Smithonian.com; 16 May 2014 [cited 8 Jan 2018]. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/Objects-That-Change-Shape-On-Their-Own-180951449/>.