University of Wollongong‘s ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) is setting the pace in the next revolution in additive manufacturing. They are taking 3D printing to an entirely new level with, 4D printing, where time is the fourth dimension.
4D-printed objects are 3D-printed objects that can change their shape over time, under the influence of factors, such as temperature, magnetic field, pressure or vibrations. This means that researchers could soon be able to not only custom-design and print an object but also give it the ability to change form, fold itself or self-assemble.
The team at the University of Wollongong built a value using different types of tough and soft hydrogels and a 3D printer. The actuators that make the valve close are activated solely by water. “So it’s an autonomous valve, there’s no input necessary other than water; it closes itself when it detects hot water,” said Professor Marc in het Panhuis.
The immediate application for the work will be in the field of soft robotics though scientists are already inspired to apply the techniques in medicine, construction, and automation. Imagine medical devices that can transform their shape once inside the body, water pipes that expand or contract depending on water demand or even self-assembling furniture. “It’s a widely expanding field,” Professor in het Panhuis said.
US inventor Skylar Tibbits, who runs MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, coined the term 4D printing.