4D Printing to Create 3D-Printed Objects That Can Transform Themselves

marc_aces_university_of_wollongong

Ever heard of a 4D-printed automatic valve that can change shape according to surrounding needs? Well, scientists have already developed one.

As 3D printing gets increasingly popular, scientists have moved on to 4D printing that takes 3D printing to an entirely new level.

Researchers have started to develop 3D-printed materials that morph into new structures, post production, under the influence of external stimuli such as water or heat – hence the name, 4D printing.

In the 4D printing, a structure is built up layer-by-layer into the desired shape – much as in 3D printing – but these new materials are able to transform themselves from one shape into another, much like a child’s Transformers toy.

This ground-breaking science promises advancement in myriad fields such as medicine, construction, automation and robotics, the researchers said.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong, Australia, is helping to set the pace in the next revolution in additive manufacturing.

ACES researchers have turned their attention to the medical field of soft robotics, manufacturing a valve that actuates in response to its surrounding water’s temperature.

“The cool thing about it is, is it’s a working functioning device that you just pick up from the printer. There’s no other assembly required,” said ACES chief investigator Marc in het Panhuis.

The materials scientist said the valve – a 3D printed structure – possessed actuators that 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,” he said.

He said the ACES group was the first to combine printing a 4D device with four different cartridges simultaneously, while using tough gels with the incorporated actuating materials.

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