‘4D’ printing: Another fad or the next big thing?

We all know about 3D printing, but now scientists have developed what’s being called ‘4D’ printing – structures that can change their form.

Inspired by plants swaying in the wind, the new printing technique allows the production of hydrogel composite structures that change their shape when immersed in water, as reported by Harvard.

The ink used by the scientists flows like liquid through the printhead, but turns solid once printed. Hydrogel materials allow the structure to react when it comes into contact with different materials.

The tech has been developed by scientists at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Jennifer Lewis, senior author on the new study, said: “This work represents an elegant advance in programmable materials assembly, made possible by a multidisciplinary approach. We have now gone beyond integrating form and function to create transformable architectures.”

Amelia Sydney Gladman, a graduate research assistant at the Wyss Institute and SEAS, explained how the process works: “Using one composite ink printed in a single step, we can achieve shape-changing hydrogel geometries containing more complexity than any other technique, and we can do so simply by modifying the print path.

"What’s more, we can interchange different materials to tune for properties such as conductivity or biocompatibility.”

So what does this all mean for the tech channel? Well, looking at the video below, we can definitely see these structures looking lovely in a fish tank, but like 3D printing, is it really a necessary technology that will hit the mainstream? We’re not sure.

Are you stocking 3D printers yet?

Of course, 4D printing could be valuable for the classroom and within education, but again, the cost of this type of technology may restrict its success. 

4D printing has actually been a thing for a few years now, with this video showing a similar type of technology, but it has yet to hit the market.

Sure, it looks lovely, but without an appealing product or brand attached to it, we’re not sure it’s ready to become the next big thing.

What are your thoughts? You can check out a video of 4D printing in action below:

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