Life is too boring with 3d printing, all you can do is download the “printing” programs and build stuff at home! And it takes time. So MIT engineers came up with (what else?) 4d printing. But hold on, don’t all physical stuff has three dimensions? So what does the 4th dimension get you? Well, the answer is TIME. Yes, MIT brings to you materials that are pre-programmed to change shape, characteristics, assemble themselves, or otherwise affect physical and/or chemical changes in response to the environment they are placed in. So the 3d printer can print the flat surface that eventually curls up on the edges to become a phone case when you drop it into water! Or basically other stuff like that…you get the idea.
FastCoDesign reports that the project is headed by Skylar Tibbits, director of the MIT Self-Assembly lab, partnering with Stratasys (a 3-D industrial printing company) to turn the concept of smart materials into a reality. The team showed off their proof of concept, by printing a strand of unformed printed pieces that morphed into the MIT logo when submerged in water. The idea is to hasten the 3d printing process by keeping to simpler shapes, to educe energy and labor costs, but using materials that are pre-programmed to shift shape or react in other pre-determined ways in response to an externally applied stimulus. “You can imagine garments or shoes that respond to the athlete and the environment," Tibbits tells Co.Design. "Tires could respond to road conditions, rather than consumers needing different tires for different surfaces.”
Magic? Almost, though there is real science behind it! In short, process needs two types of materials, static and active. The static material provides the geometric structure while the active one has the energy and information to trigger the transformation of the object. The size and placement of the active material is designed in advance using specialized software programs. Once that is ready, a 3d printer can print the object “printing” the active material just as programmed and voila! the object reacts to the elements (such as water) as designed.
© Vivek Sehgal, 2013, All Rights Reserved.