Home Technology Researchers are using 4D printing to create self-folding objects

Researchers are using 4D printing to create self-folding objects

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3D printing has opened up a whole world of research possibilities. Everything like toys, homewares, even guns can be built with 3D printers. Researchers from the University of Wollongong in Australia are
already building objects with 4D printing, where time becomes the fourth
dimension. 

They have 4D
printed a valve that automatically opens and contracts under the
influence of water and temperature. With fourth dimension as time, this technology is helping to set the pace in the next revolution in additive manufacturing.
Now researchers are able to custom-design and print an
object, but also give it the ability to change its shape, fold itself or
even self-assemble under the influence of different factors, such as
temperature, pressure, magnetic field or even vibrations.

“4D printing is in essence 3D printed structures that can change their
shape over time,” said inventor and engineer Marc in het Panhuis​.
“They’re like transformers,” he says.

Lets take an example, like 4D printing can be used to create furniture that assembles itself
when you heat it with a hairdryer – no Allen Key required. Or from a
more scientific point of view, it can help create sensitive and
responsive parts for machinery, medical research and robotics.
Just
picture medical implants that can change their shape inside the body,
or buildings that adjust themselves when it’s hot, in order to save on
heating and cooling requirements.

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With this
researchers have been able to combine a 4D printer with four different
types of hydrogel ‘ink’. The process has been described in the journal Macromolecular Rapid Communications.
The valve itself was 3D printed using both tough and soft hydrogels,
which are flexible but strong materials that can be embedded with
different properties. But what’s really cool about this valve, is
it’s created a mechanic device that’s completely autonomous – no power
source or programming required.
“The cool thing about it is, is it’s a working functioning device that you just pick up from the printer,” in het Panhuis explained in a press release. “There’s no other assembly required.”
The military is another industry interested in objects that can change shape or self destruct, Mission Impossible style.
“When
armies are on the battlefield they leave a lot of electronics behind.
What if you could make 3D printed electronics that [once the soldiers
leave] undergo transient behaviour once they become too hot, or too
cold, or too wet so they completely disappear so the enemy can’t use any
of your materials,” Professor in het Panhuis said.

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