The future of 4D printing technology

Friday 1 Dec 2023

From its earliest origins, printing has sparked revolutions. Information sharing transformed overnight when Gutenberg developed the printing press in the 15th century. Ideas could spread globally faster than ever through mass-produced texts.

While book printing is a landmark technology dating back decades, more recent innovations like 3D and 4D printing can potentially transform the world. In this post, we will explore the concept of 4D printing technology and discuss promising areas of research that could help advance this exciting new frontier.

What is 4D printing?

In 4D printing, a fourth dimension of time is added to models. A 3D-printed object maintains a static shape and properties, but a 4D-printed object can transform or change its shape or properties over time.

In 4D printing, specially designed smart materials like hydrogel resins and active polymers are used as the printing material. The materials are programmed to autonomously morph into a different predetermined shape when exposed to a particular stimulus later on, like self-assembling furniture, garments that transform based on weather conditions, and materials that heal cracks as naturally as skin.

This allows 4D-printed objects to become dynamic, ‘living’ creations that can move, assemble, repair, or disassemble depending on the programming within the smart materials.

Potential Future Applications

Some potential ways 4D technology could be used in the future include:


NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers have started investigating what 4D printing can do. Polit Casillas used 4D printing to create small squares of material like chain mail armor. The printed material can reflect heat, fold without breaking, and resist stretching and tearing.

In the future, it may protect spaceships from meteorites. It could also insulate a spacecraft visiting icy moons like Europa. It's possible that in the future, these materials could help shield spacecraft from meteorites, be used in astronaut spacesuits, or assist in collecting samples on planetary surfaces.

Manufacturing and Logistics

4D printing can help the logistics/supply chain sector by reducing the costs of manufacturing and transporting goods. Objects printed with it have self-assembly, self-expanding, and self-repairing abilities, which help reduce costs and streamline production like never before.


With 4D printing, flat boards or panels could be created that are programmed to automatically fold or transform into finished furniture pieces once activated by a stimulus. This would overcome the size limitations of 3D printers. For example, a flat board printed with smart materials might curl up into the finished shape of a chair simply by getting wet or being exposed to light.


4D printing hints at all sorts of intriguing possibilities on the horizon. While some of these ideas sound straight out of science fiction today, technology is steadily advancing. There's work still to be done, yet each new advancement edges us closer to a world of shapeshifting realities. With continued progress in both research and creative visions, we can make self-altering designs a reality.

Source: Scoop

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