Even if you’ve never used the technology firsthand, you’re probably familiar with 3D printing and how its expanding capabilities are changing the production of all types of goods. Major companies are using 3D printing as part of their prototyping process.


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3D printers have yielded parts and finished products for all manner of industries and markets, and have even entered the home as a novel appliance.

While 3D printing isn’t yet commonplace, some tech teams are already working on new and exciting incarnations of this technology.

Objects That Assemble Themselves
At Georgia Tech, researchers are working on a production innovation called 4D printing. Though it doesn’t really cross into another dimension, 4D printing is pretty remarkable. The concept starts with smart shape memory polymers, which can be printed in a specific flat shape.

Credit: Qi Ge, Amir Hosein Sakhaei, Howon Lee, Conner K. Dunn, Nicholas X. Fang & Martin L. Dunn

Once a stimulus is introduced, which could be heat, moisture, or even light, the flat printed object will essentially assemble itself into a 3D printed printed form.

Through a series of folds, it’s possible to create a range of geometric objects that are actually self-assembling. Could this potentially remove one or more steps from the manufacturing process?

Limitations And Potential Applications
While the concept and function is impressive, and 4D objects can be produced through a 3D printer, there are currently limitations.

The primary one being that self-assembling objects created through this method must be made at least in part from smart shape memory polymers.

Credit: MakerTobey

For the object to function and form correctly, careful designing and planning of the specific folds is required. 4D printing still may soon have some practical applications, especially as foldable, origami inspired designs are trending in the tech sector, as seen in foldable drones, solar panels, consumer electronics and more.

Do you think self-assembling, printable structures could play a role in your industry?

Share your input on this development in the comments.

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