Technology research on 4D printing

Identification of application potential for the automotive industry

Ordering party: German premium car manufacturer

4D printing is considered one of the technology fields with the greatest innovation potential. What is meant is a three-dimensional printing process in which the materials can automatically deform and trigger functions after additive processing under the influence of an external impulse. The external influence can be triggered, for example, by light, magnetic fields, temperature fluctuations or the influence of moisture. Even if shape-changing materials such as shape memory materials have been investigated in 3D printing for several years, MIT in the USA is considered to be the eponym for 4D printing.

In 2013, the results of self-assembling structures were presented for the first time at Skylar Tibbits’ Self-Assembly Lab at MIT. In the meantime, research teams at various institutions around the world are busy investigating the possible fields of application of 4D printing and deriving application scenarios. In addition to applications in medicine, aviation and architecture, possibilities for the vehicle industry, e.g. for form-changing body elements as well as the fashion and clothing industry, were examined and tested in demonstrator projects.

The task was to compile the main technologies and possibilities of 4D printing as well as the worldwide research activities. The results were presented to a development team at the automobile manufacturer in a workshop. The first ideas for the transfer to mobility solutions were formulated and some scenarios for use in the automotive context were worked out.

In addition to a 120-page presentation with all the essential usable printing materials, additive processing technologies and the global leading research projects, the client received documentation on some outstanding development projects and a compilation of essential patents in the field of 4D printing. The results were recorded as part of a desktop research. Contacts from the Haute Innovation Network were also included in the analysis.

image: Morphables – 4D-textiles (design: Cathryn McAnespy)