When it first emerged, 3D printing was revolutionary, changing the possibilities of our world and the manufacturing industry. Yet this technology has quickly become mainstream and already proven its relevance to the chemical industry. Now the next innovation on the horizon is 4D printing. What will this technology hold for chemicals?
Emergence of 4D printing
While 3D printing has broadened the capabilities of the manufacturing industry, it still has limitations. This is where 4D printing can come in, giving manufacturers the ability to do more than they could before. Manufacturers could program printed materials so they can later self-assemble or change to fit what’s needed when reacting to heat, water, or another stimulus.
How 4D printing could impact the chemical industry
First and foremost, think about new feedstocks, composites, or formulations developed in chemical labs along with innovative process technologies. Think about items used as laboratory or plant equipment or even spare parts that could start out compressed and expand or self-assemble after being exposed to specific conditions. Imagine pipelines in remote areas that could go back to their original shape after being damaged.
If plant or manufacturing equipment has the capability to (re-)assemble itself, skilled technicians in remote areas may no longer be needed. Moreover, 4D printing could overcome 3D printing limitations, such as large items that are too big to be fully printed.
Looking to the future
4D printing is still being researched and developed, but it could change the way supply chains in our world run. This technology can be part of the broader digital transformation, used alongside AI, the IoT, blockchain, and robotics. Many use cases are showing promising results, so stay tuned to see where this technology takes the chemical industry.