By David Drake
Even before people can fully comprehend the impact of 3D printing technology, 4D printing is poised to further revolutionize this disruptive technology. 3D printing did not only disrupt the printing industry but several other industries as well, inclusive of the manufacturing and construction sectors. Now in its embryonic stage, 4D printing is a dimension above and beyond the additive manufacturing process. These are the breakthrough technologies that create new realities and provide new solutions; investors and entrepreneurs should heed the call.
3D Printing and How it Works
3D Printing technology was developed in the 1980s by Chuck Hull. It is an additive manufacturing process which allows for the creation of solid three dimensional objects using a computer which executes a 3D modeling program. For new products a virtual design has to be created, but for existing products a 3D scanner is utilized to make a digital copy of the object.
The 3D Printer stacks thinly sliced horizontal layers of material in accordance with the digital design of the product until the process is completed. These slices are fused so that there is no physical evidence of the slicing. The materials used are in a melted or softened state and then hardened when the entire process is completed.
3D Printing is in the manufacturing industry for years now. It is printing products that we have been using in our homes, offices, schools and hospitals such as prostheses, jewelry, flashlights and numerous gadgets. 3D printing also has a huge impact on the automotive industry. And now it has started to revolutionize the building construction process. The building of houses using the 3D Printing technology has started.
The 4th Dimension
4D Printing is still in its embryonic stage. The evidence suggests that it will be a disruptive technology too. Even military organizations have shown interest in its development. 4D printing technology is 3D printing with time as its fourth dimension. This means that structures created by the use of 4D Printing technology are dynamic. They are expected to change over time under certain environmental conditions. 4D Printing technology is now at the stage where a 1D strand can be transformed into a 3D shape, 2D surface can be transformed into 3D objects, and 3D objects can be morphed into another 3D object.
The early pioneering work on 4D printing technology began with a collaboration between the Self Assembly Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stratasys. It was led by Skylar Tibbits (architect, artist and computer scientist) as the Lab Director. They have created changes in the shapes by manipulating the liquid content of the materials. The collaboration between the University of Colorado Boulder and Singapore University of Technology, and funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation, was built on the work done at MIT’s Self Assembly Lab. It has transformed 3D objects into other shapes by manipulating temperature changes such as heating it up or cooling down.
Transformations occur in these materials because the scientists program into the materials certain geometrical configurations and the various expectations in set environmental conditions such as changes in liquid content, temperature and pressure.
The biomedical, manufacturing and packaging industries will benefit from the use of 4D Printing technology. The aerospace, building and automotive industries have great possibilities.
With the advent of a ‘disruptive technology’ we see an existing technology displaced or the creation of a new industry or a new market. It affects our lives in the way that the personal computer replaced the typewriter, how emails replaced letters, and how cellular phones took staying in touch to new levels. 3D Printing has replaced the manufacturer’s mould. 4D printing will change the way we now conceive structures as static creations by making some structures dynamic and changeable over time under specific environmental conditions.
Entrepreneurs can save on costs in building prototypes of their new products or even new designs. Entrepreneurs crowdfunding for their startups can use 3D printing technology to make samples and show to their would-be financiers, the crowd. It would be more disruptive if the design is delivered in seemingly unfinished state, and then unfold right before their eyes using 4D printing.
About 429 3D projects have explored funding from Kickstarter. For the next round of capital, especially for startups, they can go to online equity-based crowdfunding platforms. Even investment banks in the likes of Credit Suisse are showing attention on leading 3D public companies such as 3D Systems and Stratasys.
A mutual fund focused on the 3D printing industry was recently created under TDPIX, with an initial minimum investment of 2500 dollars. The 3D printing and technology fund will comprise global 3D printing companies.