Forget 3-D printing, 4-D printing is on the way! - Economic Times

MELBOURNE: Researchers have developed a revolutionary 4D printing technique which can create objects that change shape over time to suit their environment.

Just as the extraordinary capabilities of 3D printing have begun to infiltrate industry, 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.

As in 3D printing, a structure is built up layer by layer into the desired shape, but these new materials are able to transform themselves from one shape into another, much like a child's Transformer toy.

"This ground-breaking science promises advancement in myriad fields - medicine, construction, automation and robotics to name a few," researchers said.

Researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW) turned their attention to the medical field of soft robotics, manufacturing a valve that actuates in response to its surrounding water's temperature.

According to Professor Marc in het Panhuis from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES), it was the cleverness of the valve's creation that was remarkable.

"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," he said.

Panhuis 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," Panhuis 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, Panhuis said.

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