Evolution from 3D printing to 4D printing

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3D printing is a process of creating a three-dimensional solid object from a digital file. This object is created by using additive processes in which the successive layers of material are laid until the object is created. These layers can be perceived as thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the object.

3D printing created a revolution in manufacturing by fabricating complex objects. The technology is being used in the printing of small components to full drones and also in the printing of ammunitions, metals, textiles, and human organs, among others.

4D printing technology is an advancement to the 3D printing technology, which can be created by using smart material and software program in the 3D printing machine. A software program that carries instructions and a smart material (as the raw material) is given as input to the 3D printer. When external energy sources, like heat, pressure, energy, etc., are brought into contact with this 3D printed smart material, it alters according to the instructions in the program previously given. Thus, 4D printing technology allows the printed objects to self-transform over time.

Adaptability is a key feature of 4D printing, which allows it to find applications in many scientific disciplines. Recycling of materials can be avoided and the object can be directly commanded to decompose into programmable elements or constituents, which can be reused to form new objects to perform new functions. The idea of window shades that can adjust according to the incoming light during the day and the idea of wearable that can adapt to environmental changes are made possible by the invention of 4D technology.

Shape-memory polymers are generally used for 4D printing. The hydrogel is the most commonly used material that changes its shape with changes in temperature over time. According to recent studies, fast, scalable, and high-resolution 3D printed hydrogels remain solid and retain their shape. Strips that are made of layers of stiff shape-memory polymer paired with elastomers are printed in less than a minute. When heated to 45oC, these strips relax, allowing the elastomer to bend. This bending of elastomer allows the strips to change the shape in accordance with the requirement of the user. As the strip cools, the shape-memory polymer stiffens and locks the new shape of the object. The only limitation of this technique is that the shape of the strip is permanent after one heating cycle.

In military applications, 4D printing has more significance. Soldiers can have a camouflage that can adapt to different environments and metals that can increase the performance of tanks and trucks according to the changes in the environment are some of the key applications of 4D printed materials. They can be also used for the construction of bridges or temporary roads, which can expand to heal the cracks and damages.

Use of 4D printing in military applications is in the initial stages of development. Companies, like Stratasys Ltd, 3D Systems Inc., SMG3D, Engineering & Manufacturing Services Inc., EOS GmbH Electro Optical Systems, and ExOne Company, among others are working to make 4D printing become a reality. Once this technology comes into practice, it is anticipated to become one of the fastest growing technology in the future.

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About the Market

The Military 3D and 4D printing market is estimated to grow at a CAGR of above 20% in the forecast period. The increasing use of 3D and 4D printed lightweight weapons and other required equipment in the military is one of the major factors expected to drive the market of military 3D and 4D printing.

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Mordor Intelligence is a market intelligence and advisory firm operating in 14 industry segments, serving over 600 clients, globally.

Kashyap G
Kashyap G Kashyap Gannavarapu is currently working as a Research Associate at Mordor Intelligence, LLP in the field of Aerospace and Defense. He has completed his Bachelor’s degree in Electronic and Communication Engineering.
Kashyap G Kashyap Gannavarapu is currently working as a Research Associate at Mordor Intelligence, LLP in the field of Aerospace and Defense. He has completed his Bachelor’s degree in Electronic and Communication Engineering.  

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