Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A New Face to Printing & Design

A 3-D face printed on paper from Mcor.
Image courtesy of OinkFROG 

3-D and 4-D multidimensional printing—they sound like something straight out of Mission Impossible.

But they couldn’t be more real.

According to Blaine Brownell, AIA, in Architect, this sort of additive manufacturing is “transforming architecture, design, and engineering, and motivating practitioners to rethink conventional methods of production.”

A singular advancement in the field of 3-D printing is the ability to print on—who would’ve guessed it?—paper (plastics and ceramics having been the most common materials in printing).

An Irish company called Mcor developed the paper-printing method using selection deposition lamination technology (SDL), which produces tactile, 3-D models from A4-sized sheets of paper outfitted with adhesive between each layer.

Brownell predicts that “it won’t be long before architecture students rush to their reviews with full-color, printed paper models.”

But, just as we’re wrapping our minds around the possibilities of 3-D printing, none other than the fourth dimension is on the rise.

Now, scientists can not only create static materials—but also dynamic ones.  With research spearheaded by Skylar Tibbits at the Self-Assembly Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, materials are being created that can modify their own structure at the macro level—in other words, “parts can transform from one shape to another shape directly on their own,” according to Tibbits’ recent TEDTalk.

What does this mean for real-life application?  The short answer?  A whole lot of things. First, it could solve infrastructure problems by allowing us to create undulating water pipes that expand and contract on their own as water flows through them.  Materials could be built in extreme conditions, such as space, on their own: we would simply have to “program” the materials to build themselves (all without motors, wires, or robotics, mind you).

Other applications include materials that “may be capable of responding autonomously to changing environmental conditions,” according toBrownell. Think military uniforms that change camouflage depending on surroundings and coatings on buildings that undergo alterations depending on weather conditions.

To see 4-D printing in action, check out this video.

Though we’re still not at a place where a 3-D printer is as ubiquitous in an office as a copy machine, the future in additive manufacturing nears ever closer. What will be in store for 3-D and 4-D printing in the next five years … even two?  It’s exciting to pretend we’re mission-bound and imagine.

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