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4D and 3D Printers

4D and 3D Printers

What is 3D Printing?

  • 3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.
  • The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes.
  • In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created.
  • Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.

Process of 3D Printing

  • 3D printing starts by making a virtual design of the object to be created. Virtual design can be made using a 3D modelling program such as CAD (Computer Aided Design) or 3D scanners.
  • The 3D digital copy is then put into a 3D modelling program. The model is then sliced into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers in preparation for printing.
  • This prepared file is thus uploaded in the 3D printer which reads each slices in 2D format and then proceeds to create the object layer by layer and the resulting object has no sign of layering visible, but a 3 dimensional structure.

Advantages of 3D printing

  • Less Time: Printing of the 3D object can be done directly, differing from the traditional manufacturing where different components had to be joined to form the final product.
  • Low cost: 3D printing is cheaper than traditional method of manufacturing. Cost of producing or manufacturing products using 3d printing technology is equal for small-scale and mass manufacturing. For example: China was able to able to construct 10 one storey houses at less than $5000 per house
  • Increased Productivity:  It enables quick production with a high number of prototypes or a small-scale version of the real object
  • Reduced wastage: AM process produces less waste in comparison with other traditional manufacturing techniques
  • Efficiency: Generating prototypes with 3D printers is much easier and faster with 3D printing technology.
  • Flexibility: Different materials can be used in the 3D models. This makes it very easy to create construction models or prototypes for a wide variety of projects within many industries.
  • Quality assurance: the technology builds robust products with superior functionality
  • Customization:  Every item can be customized to meet a user’s specific needs without impacting the manufacturing costs.
  • Employment opportunities: The widespread use of 3d printing technology will increase the demand for engineers who are needed to design and build these printers and design blueprints of products.

Issues with 3D Printing  | 4D and 3D Printers 

  • Concerns over copyright infringements: There is concern over counterfeit printing of copyrighted or patented products. Anyone who gets a hold of a blueprint will be able to counterfeit products easily
  • Limited Raw Materials: With 3D printing being an additive method (layer after layer), the materials available suited for it are limited- ceramics, resin, plastics, etc.
  • Ethical concerns associated with use of 3D technology in healthcare
  • Limited size:The size of objects created with 3d printers is currently limited
  • Effect on employment: Jobs in manufacturing will be rendered obsolete which will have a negative impact on developing economies.
  • Cyber security concerns: Studies have shown that the 3-D printer connected to online network is vulnerable to cyberattacks.
  • Production of dangerous items: There are concerns over deterring or controlling people from 3D printing potentially dangerous items. Example: International regimes such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Agreement that control technology have been concerned about proliferation of high-performance 3-D printers, which have the capability to print parts for missile or nuclear weapon.

Application of 3d printing

  • The worldwide 3D printing industry is expected to grow from $3.07B in revenue in 2013 to $12.8B by 2018, and exceed $21B in worldwide revenue by 2020.
  • As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.
  • Bio-printing
    • 3D printing technology has been studied by biotech firms and academia for possible use in tissue engineering applications where organs and body parts are built using inkjet techniques. Layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium and slowly built up to form three dimensional structures. This is also known as bio printing
  • Medical industry
    • The outlook for medical use of 3D printing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace as specialists are beginning to utilize 3D printing in more advanced ways. Patients around the world are experiencing improved quality of care through 3D printed implants and prosthetics never before seen.
  • Automotive industry
    • Although the automotive industry was among the earliest adopters of 3D printing it has for decades relegated 3D printing technology to low volume prototyping applications. Nowadays the use of 3D printing in automotive is evolving from relatively simple concept models for fit and finish checks and design verification, to functional parts that are used in test vehicles, engines, and platforms. The expectations are that 3D printing in the automotive industry will generate a combined $1.1 billion dollars by 2019.
  • Aerospace & aviation industries
    • The growth in utilisation of 3D printing in the aerospace and aviation industries can, for a large part, be derived from the developments in the metal additive manufacturing sector. NASA for instance prints combustion chamber liners using selective laser melting and in March 2015 the FAA cleared GE Aviation’s first 3D printed jet engine part to fly: a laser sintered housing for a compressor inlet temperature sensor.
  • It is predicted by some additive manufacturing advocates that this technological development will change the nature of commerce, because end users will be able to do much of their own manufacturing rather than engaging in trade to buy products from other people and corporations.

3D Printing in India  | 4D and 3D Printers 

  • The government has launched several initiatives such as ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’ and ‘Skill India’ to improve investment opportunities and to enhance manufacturing capabilities in the country. Given the government’s interest in boosting manufacturing, major manufacturers have established 3-D printing assembly lines and distribution centres in partnership with foreign technological firms.
  • A PwC report titled ‘The Global Industry 4.0’ in 2016 shows that in India, 27% of industries have either already invested or will be investing in AM technology within the next five years

What is 4D Printing?

  • Scientists have successfully developed the world’s first 4D printing for ceramics.
  • It can be used to create complex, shape-changing objects.
  • 4D printing is conventional 3D printing combined with the additional element of time as the 4th dimension.
  • The 4D printed objects can re-shape or self-assemble themselves over time with external stimuli, such as mechanical force, temperature, or a magnetic field.
  • The existing 3D-printed ceramic productions are usually difficult to deform and hinder the production of ceramics with complex shapes.
  • A novel ceramic ink was developed to stretch the ceramic products beyond its initial length and allow complex shapes with heat treatment.  (4D and 3D Printers )

Techniques of 4D Printing

  • At Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, a team of scientists is studying a way that a special ink, known as hydrogel ink, can change shape and form when stimulated with water.
  • Hydrogel ink works by allowing the objects that it prints on to change shape to form new structures which are similar to those found in flowers.
  • The tissue microstructures and compositions of different plants can change depending on the situation of their environments.
  • Wyss has replicated the process by developing 4D-printed hydrogel composites which are programmed to contain precise swelling, allowing 3D-printed flowers to change shape when exposed to water and other environmental changes.

Application of 4D printing  | 4D and 3D Printers 

  • We can use it to achieve robotics-like behavior without the reliance on complex electro-mechanical devices
  • Childcare products that can react to humidity or temperature, for example, or clothes and footwear that optimise their form and function by reacting to changes in the environment
  • Home appliances and products that can adapt to heat or moisture to improve comfort or add functionality
  • There are also uses for pre-programmed self-deforming materials in healthcare – researchers are printing biocompatible components that can be implanted in the human body
  • 3d and 4d printing is set to revolutionize manufacturing the way we know it in the years to come
  • In the future we aim to produce larger structures which can handle more complex transformations, as well as smaller, miniaturised models which can be used in the body.

What is the difference between 3D Printing and 4D Printing?

  • Obviously, 4D Printing has one more “D” than 3D Printing. What does that mean and why does it bring so much added value to the technology?
  • 3D Printing is about repeating a 2D structure, layer by layer in a print path, from the bottom to the top, layer by layer until a 3D volume is created. 4D Printing is referred to as 3D printing transforming over time. Thus, a fourth dimension is added: time. So, the big breakthrough about 4D Printing over 3D Printing technology is its ability to change shape over time.
  • A 4D printed object is printed just like any 3D printed shape.
  • The difference is that the 4D Printing technology uses programmable and advanced materials that perform a different functionality by adding hot water, light or heat. That’s why a non-living object can change its 3D shape and behavior over time.


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