What Is It and What Implications Can It Have on the World?

The term 3D Printing is a concept that most people understand. Instead of the standard 2D printed image on paper or other type of material, the image comes to life fully formed in a 3-Dimensional application right from the machine. It is understandable that the image that comes from the 3D Printer will have movable parts depending on the model, but the movement of the piece will be completely dependent upon a person moving the piece or another form of motorisation. 4D Printing is a bit different.

What is 4D Printing?

When you think of 4D animation, you immediately begin to think of the common concept of bringing not only sound, sight, and motion into the mix, but other senses as well such as smell or even taste. 4D Printing brings more to the table as well, but possibly not in the way one might think. Instead of incorporating the other senses, the 4D Printing brings in movement of the piece without an outside source. The piece is printed on a standard Industrial 3D Printer, but it is the materials that are utilised within the printing process that give the piece specific properties.

The piece is printed from a variety of different materials and comes with the ability to mold itself into the specific shapes desired without relying on any outside source or human interaction. The technology combines the use of nanotechnology with 3D Printer Materials to allow an object, such as a snake type piece, to mold itself into an intricate design without human help. Pieces moving of their own design might sound like a science fiction movie, but with the wide range of 3D Printing Materials on the market today, there is true potential to positively impact the world as we know it through this impressive technology.


4D Print created by MIT. Image above by sjet.us.

Possibilities for the Technology

Currently, the 4D Printing industry is in its infancy. There are some 3D CAD Models that have been produced with the ability to mold themselves into words and even some smaller pieces that can build themselves into actual structures by shaking them in an enclosed space, but no real world projects have yet to be accomplished. Where the concept of 3D Printing has had a remarkably positive impact on the world, thus far, 4D Printing is set for even greater things.

Medical Implications

We have already seen the fact that 3D Printed models have been used to improve the lives of so many people through prosthetics, and even replacement organs, but the technology of 4D Printing has to potential to provide many more services to the medical field. Soon we could see 3D Printers producing organs that, not only function within the body, but can repair themselves should they become damaged. The highly intelligent materials may not just be able to repair themselves, but could also communicate directly with doctors to allow for much more efficient patient care. The doctors can have the ongoing information throughout the treatment of a patient to make an educated decision on long-term care and ensure that the patient is honest about any lifestyle changes to their routine to ensure proper care as well.

Industrial Implications

Another thought for the new 4D technology coming to light is the impact it will have on industries throughout the world. 3D Printed Designs are currently being used in structures such as homes for emergency situations. Manufacturers are using the technology to improve the machines they use for manufacturing purposes and even customising machines to fit different genres of manufacture. Where 4D Print technology could potentially come into play is with the maintenance of these machines. One of the largest impacted areas that comes to mind is the oil industry.

Each year we hear of different oil spills impacting the environment. By the time the companies get the chance to repair the leak, the damage has already been done to the environment. The advantage of today’s 3D Printers is the fact that they can be made to produce very large items. 4D Printing could allow for the containment unit for the oil or even the entire ship or pipe, for that matter, to be made with intelligent nanotechnology would allow the repair of the breech to be accomplished before the oil has much potential to impact the oceanic environment.


4D transformation sphere obtained through popsci.com.

The impact that 4D Printing could potentially have on the world is tremendous. Although many of these concepts seem foreign to us as of right now, the potential for expansion within the industry is endless. Where 3D Printers first began in the 80s as a revolutionary tool primarily for design, the concepts around the technology and the materials used have expended to greater heights. 3D Printing materials will continue to grow in popularity and through revolutionary 4D Printing technologies, we will soon see an age where we are able to trust many machines to assist in fixing common maintenance and repair issues.

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