3D printed objects that can move and change shape are technically 4D printed – the fourth dimension comes in the object’s ability to change shape when exposed to environmental stimuli like heat, humidity, and/or light, and then revert back to its original form. At this week’s National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the largest scientific society in the world, a team of researchers is presenting research on their powerful new 4D printer.
This emerging technology is challenging, as lengthy, complex post-processing steps are usually needed to mechanically program each component. Aside from this, most commercial systems are only able to print 4D structures in one material only.
The 4D printer that this research team created, with funding from HP Inc., the National Science Foundation, the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and Northrop Grumman, could be used to streamline the creation of structures that can self-assemble and change shape, using multiple materials.“We are on the cusp of creating a new generation of devices that could vastly expand the practical applications for 3-D and 4-D printing. Our prototype printer integrates many features that appear to simplify and expedite the processes used in traditional 3-D printing,” explained H. Jerry Qi, PhD, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). “As a result, we can use a variety of materials to create hard and soft components at the same time, incorporate conductive wiring directly into shape-changing structures, and ultimately set the stage for the development of a host of 4-D products that could reshape our world.”