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4D-Printing: Building Programmable Objects that Respond to External Stimuli

By Dick Weisinger

3D-printing has already had an big impact in the manufacturing and parts industries. 3D-printing is now used for everything from creating toys to appliances. But now, the next generation of the technology is getting ready to leapfrog what 3D-printing has accomplished.

It’s called 4D-printing. It adds the extra dimension of time. But it’s not a time machine, rather it’s a way to specify how an object should change in time or a way to make object change when subjected to outside stimuli, like electric current, moisture or heat. 4D-printing uses materials that can react to different external stimuli.

Materials Science has been able to engineer new types of materials, particularly for aerospace and medical applications, that have interesting properties, like being flexible, lightweight, and now capable of responding to environmental conditions by changing shape or other material properties.

Programmable Wood from Self-Assembly Lab, MIT on Vimeo.

Howon Lee, assistant professor at Rutgers University, said that “We believe this unprecedented interplay of materials science, mechanics and 3D printing will create a new pathway to a wide range of exciting applications that will improve technology, health, safety and quality of life.”

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