3D and 4D Printing – Print Your Next Meal? Surface Reactive Shoes? What?

Author: Carey Robards, Viking AT

Like most things, the further you go along, the more you discover.  That is one of the fun things about R&D and one of the driving forces to many success stories.  Today, radical technology is emerging to change the age old conveniences that we use in our daily lives.  If even half of them are successful, our lives will change drastically.  3D and 4D printing is unique because the kicker is this: it is all about the process more than the products it creates. There are so many possibilities to this evolution – if it can truly deliver all that it is already promising.

Imagine sitting in your living room as you decide to create a new chair to fill that empty corner space in the room. So, you go over to your computer, choose the shade or pattern that fits your liking, and hit print.. That’s progress.

The potential to change the way we get lots of “things” is really astronomical. Then you start talking about materials like proteins and biological reactions within 4D printing.  It seems that although 3D printing is catching on a bit, we’re all still waiting for the market of Holy Grail of printers to become available with usable metal materials to grow, and testing…lots of testing. Our first experience while using 3D printed parts by a very reputable company.  The parts failed to meet or maintain the structural properties of the original metal and were unusable. Within most every project scope, specific materials are chosen for their performance, based on the expected properties that come with that material.  If these properties are off and fail to perform or hold up to the necessary standards, designs fail or are vulnerable to failure.  That will never work. These parts now sit on a small shelf we affectionately call our “parts graveyard”.  We do still have high hopes for this technology as being a great solution some day for small production parts and prototyping that goes beyond plastic toys and novelty items, and just waiting for that day to come.

 3D and now even 4D printing with smart reactionary material has begun its steps towards revolutionizing manufacturing and prototype development in R&D. Heading towards home offices everywhere. The new 3D printers are on their way to your home soon.  The “Peachy Printer” is the first $100 3D Printer and Scanner that is pretty unique.  The technology is bumped up from standard cheap 3D printers to using audio waves controlling an XY laser and water, with actual resin and not mushy plastic.  It seems a little rough and grainy still, but according to their website, they are working out the bugs to accomplish better resolution potential. Imagine all the duck call bodies and reeds “Duck Dynasty” could print right from their very own shop with their own desktop 3D printer.  So, anyone from the home hobbyist to larger companies can find a 3D printer for their budget soon.

Anyone can now become their own dynamic automated producers of things.

With 3D printers becoming more affordable, software becoming more user friendly – allowing most anyone to be able to use them, and a much greater quality in printing materials and technique available in even the lower cost printers. We now are seeing some unimaginable concepts and products coming out using this process.

One new and interesting gadget (which leans more towards the skepticism side a bit), is the “Foodini”, by Natural Machines. The Foodini, as reported by the Smithsonian, “May allow people to painlessly prepare healthier meals instead of reaching for the factory-processed Stuff in your freezer”.  The concept is actually to print your food, free from additives like trans-fat to GMO’s.  The unit is more of an assembly machine and the claims are that they are mostly adept to “preparing burgers, gnocchi, ravioli, cookies, chocolate sculptures and bread sticks—foods generally made from pasty ingredients.” The Natural Machines website shows some high resolution photos and videos.  One immediate drawback to this idea that comes to mind is liquid medium raw foods. Hmmm….

image courtesy of natural machines
image courtesy of natural machines











Now, with the 4D printing coming out, we are now traveling into the “fourth Dimension”. A concept of 3D printing using new smart bio and nano materials that are responsive and self-adapting to its surroundings and can perform molecular self-assembly or re-assembly.  A collaboration effort between MIT, Stratsys & Autodesk is spearheading developments of such technology. Skylar Tidbits, director of the MIT Self-Assembly lab was named as one of the six Architectural League winners for collaborative research into programmable materials. Harvard, the University of Pittsburg and University of Illinois were given $855,000 in grant funding from the US Army to develop biomimetic composites that re-program their shape, functionality, and properties based upon external stimulation.

Discussions about many different applications and active projects are all over the internet and showing great progress are going to break through limitations to some really crazy stuff.  Imagine some of these coming into the market:

  • Furniture that you buy as a flat pack, bring home and watch as it self-assembles itself.
  • Printed textiles that can change and adapt to camouflage a solder in different environments or even hide them by bending light.
  • Bridges and temporary buildings self-assembling by dousing them with water and providing instant solutions in disaster situations.
  • Endless ammunition printed on the spot for military field operations.
  • Easier construction in extreme or dangerous conditions, including space and other planets.
  • Surface reactive shoes that transform to fit the different surfaces, to include cleats, as you go about your day.

It all sounds pretty amazing, and if you think about the fact that they are just getting started on the many applications that can come forward, the possibilities can seem endless.

“Endless possibilities” is what Viking is all about, and we look forward to the potential endless possibilities of this technology. We also have one or two on our wish list once things become a bit more refined but we are looking forward to 3D and 4D printing happening at the Viking lab!

Viking AT Piezo Actuator and Valve Technology




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