STAFFORD, England—A new manufacturing technique brings a fourth dimension to additive manufacturing through the use of "smart polymers" that can be programmed to remember shapes when they are printed, according to Stafford-based EU Automation International Ltd.
The new 4D printing technology looks promising for industries investing in 3D printing, the automation equipment supplier said in a news release about the possible applications for the medical, automotive, aerospace and household appliance markets.
Similar self-assembling and shape-changing technologies rely on electricity and robotics to fold and bend while 4D-printed products require only heat, water or vibration as an energy source.
With 4D printing, companies can design and manufacture products that flex and adapt to improve the performance of a component, EU Automation said. The final product is preprogrammed to respond to a specific stimulus without external intervention, according to Claudia Jarret, the U.S. country manager, who shared some insight into the impact 4D printing can have.
For example, a 4D printed knee ligament could change position or size after a change in body temperature or increased pressure on the leg muscles to improve comfort for the patient. Or, a tracheal stent could be manufactured with a seal that responds to pressure or water. Then, the tube placed inside a patient to enable breathing could adapt to keep the person safer.
With 4D printing, a temperature sensor for a jet engine, a heat exchanger on a car and components for ovens and washing machines also could adapt to external factors like heat, vibration or moisture and then improve functionality, according to EU Automation.
Other applications could include components for optical engineering and aerospace manufacturing for space-based telescope programs.
"4D printing adds an additional dimension—the ability to change over time," the news release said.