What Is 4D Printing? 10 Examples

man and woman smiling at 3D printer making hand model

You've already heard about 3D printing and how amazing it is but now, 3D is old news. The next evolution is 4D printing and all the cool stuff it can do.

What is 4D printing? Here are 10 examples of what you will see in the next few years out of printing technology.

You might be amazed by what the future holds.

Printing in Multiple Dimensions

Even to those who understand it pretty well, 3D printing seems like something out of a science fiction movie. But 4D is an even further evolution that some say will usher in the real future of printing technology.

Forget about the stuff you’ve seen in the movies. This tech is even more incredible.

3D Printing

So far, 3D printing technology has been applied to the manufacture of all kinds of items. It's been used to make parts for space stations, buildings, cars, and just about anything else you could name.

The possibilities that 3D printing has created are practically endless. Some have even suggested that entire cities can be built with 3D printing technology, which is pretty amazing.

One 3D printer, the Minitank, can put down up to 2,153 square feet of concrete in a single day. This machine places concrete more than 50 percent faster than traditional methods of pouring concrete.

That's already pretty amazing, and it’s got huge applications for the construction industry. But now, the ante has been upped again.

Now, there is 4D printing. So…what is 4D printing, and what can it do?

3D printed moving gripper device

What Is 4D Printing?

So what is 4D printing? It's the next evolution of 3D printing, but it’s a whole lot more than that.

Basically, 3D printed material is created, and then, new material is added to it in order to create an entirely new object that does something 3D printing can't do: it transforms itself into something else.

In 4D printing, 3D printed objects are able to self-assemble and change. Imagine an airplane wing that changes when the wind speed changes.

As amazing as that is, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibilities that 4D printing can create.

Yes, that's right. What happens is, 4D printed materials actually respond to stimuli such as heat, water, pressure, or chemical interaction.

When that stimulus is present, the object changes form. Yes, it literally transforms on its own based on temperature, pressure, or some other external factor.

This means that with 4D printing, objects can actually put themselves together and then change due to whatever is happening around them. Now, this is the stuff that's right out of a science fiction movie.

How Does It Work?

To create this amazing technology, a geometric code is used. The code is based on the dimensions of the printed object and the measurements of how it can and should change due to outside factors.

Materials such as programmable carbon fiber, wood grain, and textiles are being used to create 4D-printed objects. However, the different materials to which this tech could be applied are numerous.

It's pretty amazing technology. But how can it be applied to the real world?

10 Examples of 4D Printing

Sure it’s awesome when plane wings can transform as needed, but that’s pretty technical stuff on a pretty high level. What about everybody else and the everyday ways 4D printing can make a difference?

Can 4D printing be a part of your everyday life? Take a look at some specific examples of what 4D printing can achieve and how you might end up using it in your own life.

This stuff isn’t just for the biggest industries and the billionaires of the world. The things that 4D technology can do can change every aspect of the way human beings live, and it’s super exciting stuff.

Sneakers

3D printed sneaker

How many different pairs of sneakers do you own? Do you have sneakers for running, for golfing, for yoga, maybe for hiking?

What if you could own just one pair for every type of sport or activity you do? Wouldn’t that make things a whole lot easier?

With 4D sneakers, they will automatically adjust to your activity. When you play basketball, the shoes will adapt to provide more ankle support.

But if you're running, the shoes adapt to the terrain to give you better traction. If it's raining, for example, the soles will become cleats to keep you steady and your path true.

You can literally put on one pair of shoes and engage in any sport, any activity, anything you need to do with your feet. And while you do it, your shoes will change around your feet to give them whatever they need, help you manage the terrain, and support you however will help you the most.

Supercar

Many businesses are already looking for ways to apply 4D technology to what they make. Briggs Automotive Company is working on a 4D wing for a supercar model that will adjust to weather conditions, automatically changing to provide maximum downforce based on temperature, weather, and moisture levels.

That kind of blows power locks and heated seats out of the water when it comes to features on a car, right?

Transformable Armor

The U.S. military is incredibly interested in 4D technology, of course. The minds in the military are looking for ways to use the tech to create adaptable armor that can change its camouflage pattern to suit the terrain and protect soldiers against dangers like poison gas and shrapnel.

Yes. The Army is ready to use 4D printing technology to turn soldiers into the Predator.

That's something that would make a heck of an action movie.

Soldiers of the future and other law enforcement officials could end up wearing armor that adapts and adjusts to their body, to their surroundings, to the dangers that present themselves. How many injuries and deaths could this prevent?

Cancer Warriors

The healthcare industry is working on using 4D printing to develop all sorts of treatments for medical issues, including nanorobots that provide chemotherapy to treat cancer.

It might not be much longer before a printer can create a self-adapting microrobot to enter your body and attack cancer cells, eliminating them and leaving only healthy cells instead. This is truly mind-blowing stuff.

In fact, the medical field is looking at many ways in with 4D printing can save lives, cure diseases, and perhaps one day, replace limbs and organs.

Construction

Many are eyeing the possibility of using 4D printing in the construction industry. This technology can potentially be used to create bridges that build themselves, bildings that adjust to weather conditions, roofs that can repair themselves, and that's just the beginning.

There are many ways in which material that can transform itself could be used in construction. The possibilities are enough to inspire plenty of science fiction movies and apparently, many interesting future realities.

Experts say that mega-cities are the future, with millions of people living in huge cities and enormous buildings that stretch to the sky. What if those cities and buildings could adjust and adapt to suit the people who live there?

3D printed buildings

Water Pipes

What if your plumbing pipes could change diameter based on the amount of water you're using at any given time? What if they could automatically repair themselves when they develop a crack or even a full break?

This would absolutely change the way buildings and homes are created and totally change your maintenance needs. Suppose you never had to pay for a water line leak or a drain leak or a sewer pipe leak.

How amazing would that be?

Orthopedic Implants

Medical researchers believe that 4D printing can be used to create orthopedic implants that have a very low risk of being rejected by the body or becoming infected.

What kind of orthopedics can be used? Knee prosthetics printed with 4D technology can grow and adapt to the patient's body as needed to provide mobility and support, adjusting to give the body exactly what it requires from the joint.

Some researchers think that one day, 4D printing can even be used to create living cells. The medical applications of this technology seem to be unlimited.

Researchers are looking into many possibilities of what 4D printing can do to improve health and save lives, and even in these early phases, the applications for this tech are utterly stunning.

Self-Assembling Furniture

Remember that horrible time you had that night putting together that thing you bought that was in pieces? Remember how you had extra pieces left over at the end and didn't even know why?

Wouldn't it be nice if you never had to put together a piece of furniture ever again? Wood grain that is programmable through 4D technology can literally be placed in water or in some other environmental condition, and it will turn itself into a chair, a table, or whatever it was programmed to become.

No nails, no screws, no extra pieces. Just a piece of wood that can become furniture.

Ikea may not know it, but their days are certainly numbered. Forget about those long nights reading ad re-reading instructions when you can literally sprinkle water on some wood and watch it turn into furniture.

Water Valve

Not just a concept but a reality is the 4D water valve created in Australia at the University of Wollongong. This valve closes itself when hot water is poured on it.

When the temperature goes down, the value widens. This self-adjusting valve changes as needed for weather conditions and usage.

Airway Splint

Researchers at the University of Michigan CS Mott Children's Hospital used 4D printing to create airway splints for infants. The splints automatically expanded as the babies grew and then dispersed naturally into the babies' bodies.

This is truly an amazing application of 4D printing that shows just the beginnings of how this technology will one day be used to save lives. So far, this procedure has been successfully used on multiple infants.

What Is 4D Printing and What Can It Do?

What is 4D pritning? Only some truly mind-blowing technology could change everything about the world in a pretty short amount of time.

This list shows 10 ways that 4D printing technology can be used, how it can be applied to big industries, and how it can be used for little life conveniences, too. But the possibilities of 4D printing are absolutely enormous and pretty much limitless.

The future is finally here. Self-transforming printed material that can be whatever you want it to be is about as futuristic as it gets...and it's probably the coolest thing science has come up with so far, too.

Who knows where the future of 4D printing will take the world? This tech is very new and already, it’s being used in astounding ways.

There’s no telling just how far 4D printing could ultimately go…but it’s exciting to think about all those possibilities.

People Also Ask

How long does 4D printing take?

In order to infuse a 3D printed object with the transformative material that will create this 4D technology, it helps to know how long is that process going to take.

Depending on the complexity of the 4D object, it could take many hours or days to finish completely.

Who can use 4D printing?

The industries and individuals that could potentially use 4D printing seem limitless. Already, 4D printing has found its way into several industries, and research is being conducted to introduce it into construction, industry, electronics, and more industries.

One day, 4D printed items could be everywhere.

What else can 4D printing do?

There is no knowing what 4D printing can do. The possibilities are wide open, and the potential for this technology is absolutely staggering.

Already, various people around the world are thinking of and studying ways to use 4D printing in the military, in healthcare, in automobile making, in aeronautics, and in fashion. There's no knowing where 4D printing might go next.

Further Reading

8 Affordable 3D Printers

Here's What We Think of Our 3D Printer

You Can Make Endless Cool Things With 3D Printers