And as 3D printing, though still in its infancy, continues to forge new paths in the world of emerging technology, 4D printing, an evolution of 3D printing, too has been making news. While 3D printing allows us to print static objects, 4D printing allows dynamic materials to self-assemble into different shapes after they have been printed, or to evolve over time in response to their environment. Although, the technology might take four to five years time to be applied on a commercial scale, it is indeed set to change the 3D printing landscape. Undoubtedly, materials will play a key role in 4-D printing and will radically change the value chain of the printing industry. Stratasys’s announcement of a partnership with Graphene Technologies to “develop Graphene-enhanced 3D printing materials” only substantiates this forecast.
Composed of a single layer of graphite carbon atoms, grapheme is the thinnest and toughest material ever created. It is a better conductor than copper and flexible like rubber. All these qualities render to this material immense potential for use in a plethora of applications, from IT & consumer electronics to energy, aerospace, medicine… and of course 3D & 4D printing!
Given its USPs of strength and flexibility, it is being used by developers to print circuits on clothing, helping to fashion a genuinely wearable form of technology that doesn’t rely on bulky watches, Augmented Reality (AR) glasses or sewing computers into one’s flesh. Only recently, Cambridge University successfully printed a piano circuit board onto fabric and a digital display onto a bendy bit of plastic using a conductive graphene ink, only cementing the possibility of its use to create tech wear. And the buck doesn’t stop here! While using printable circuits to in cooperate graphene health monitors in clothes is already in the offing, developers feel printing graphene phone displays on our hands, stomachs and thighs will hardly remain a thing of the future. With a television printed on one’s thigh, connotations of the phrase ‘watching TV in bed’ are inching closer to its explicit meaning.
Although metals and plastics dominate the current 3D printing scenarios as commercially viable materials, graphene, a rear amalgamation of the properties of the aforementioned materials, is soon going to earn itself the status of THE material in this industry.