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Australian researchers introduce concept of '4D printing'

25 April 2015

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) at the University of Wollongong is claiming an additive manufacturing 'first'.

Professor Marc in het Panhuis and PhD student Shannon Bakarich are building objects using 4D printing, where time is the fourth dimension (photo: University of Wollongong/Paul Jones)

Just as the extraordinary capabilities of 3D printing have begun to infiltrate industry and the family home, 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. As a result, they have dubbed it '4D printing' - the fourth dimension referring to the time in which the shape-shifting occurs.

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. ACES researchers have turned their attention to the medical field of soft robotics, manufacturing a valve that actuates in response to the temperature of water surrounding it.

According to Professor Marc in het Panhuis of ACES, the valve is a working, functioning device the moment you take it from the printer, with no other assembly being required. The 3D printed structure possesses actuators that are activated solely by water.

"It's an autonomous valve, so there's no input necessary other than water; it closes itself when it detects hot water," he says.

The ACES group is believed to be the first to combine printing a 4D device with four different cartridges simultaneously, while using tough gels with the incorporated actuating materials.

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