4D Printers To Print Structures That Change Over Time
While our minds are still getting accustomed to the possibility of printing jet engines, houses and ice-creams, researchers at the University of Wollongong are already a step ahead of our wildest imaginations by building 4D printers.
Coining it ‘4D printing’, the researchers are seeking to print objects that could change over time. This means that time would be the fourth dimension of the 3D printed objects.
In the usual 3D printer, the system is fed with a pre-programmed shape and dimensions of the object, which is built up layer by layer into the required form. Mainly, plastic is used, but other substances can also be printed too like sugar, or cellular material.
For 4D printers, the Australian team chose tough hydrogels which can morph their characteristics when exposed to heat and moisture. They used the hydrogels to then 3D-print a smart valve using actuators which can control water flow. The valve lets cold water flow through normally, but closes when hot water is detected.
Right now, the direct immediate application for the technology will be seen in the field of soft robotics, but it is being expected that similar techniques could be used in medicine, construction, and automation.
“The cool thing about it is that it’s a working, functioning device that you just pick up from the printer,” said one of the researchers – Marc in het Panhuis. “There’s no other assembly required. So it’s an autonomous valve, there’s no input necessary other than water; it closes itself when it detects hot water.”
Their research was published in Macromolecular Rapid Communications.
Click here to have look at the high-res images from the scientists’ den.