At the beginning of Terminator 2, Sarah Connor has a surreal moment when she realizes she must trust her previous nemesis, played by Schwarzenegger, to protect her son from a newer-version Terminator sent back by Skynet to kill her child.
The audience already knows Schwarzenegger’s model 101 Terminator android is outmatched. The newer T-1000 prototype is made from a ‘mimetic polyalloy,’ a liquid metal that can change shape at will. As incredible as Schwarzenegger’s Terminator might be, the audience realizes this new machine is far superior, and that Sarah and John are doomed.
Spoiler: The audience is wrong.
3D and 4D printing have a similar relationship as the two Terminators have with each other: they both offer incredible improvements over today’s standard technology, and one is a more futuristic prototype based upon the technology of the first. And while 4D printing literally has the ability to change shape as needed (read more about that below), both technologies can have a surprising effect on your supply chain. Like the original Terminator, 3D printing has powerful assets of its own to offer.
The Advantages of 3D Printing
3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, has a forecasted annual growth of 24% through 2024. It is now used for everything from sneakers and beer brewing parts to aerospace applications. More and more industries are embracing the technology as a powerful complement to traditional manufacturing. Some reasons for this impressive growth include:
● Improved process flexibility. 3D printing shortens lead times when changing over production from one product to the next. Manufacturing time for each product is also typically shorter, which means faster response to customer demand.
● Distributed manufacturing. Local builds are possible through on-demand files sent securely to local 3D printing facilities. This option may reduce logistics and transportation time, as well as associated costs.
● Lowered labor costs. Additive manufacturing typically uses fewer parts and assembly pieces than traditional methods. This allows a reduction in overall staffing costs.
● Less waste. Since 3D printing adds material layer by layer as needed, in many cases it will reduce the amount of raw material used as compared to that used in subtractive manufacturing methods.
These advantages will smooth out any kinks in your current supply chain, offering a balance of growth, performance, and innovation while driving revenue with minimal risk.
What You Should Know about 4D Printing
4D Printing is still moving through early-stage research and development, but you will likely be hearing more about it in the coming decade. 4D is considered an extended step beyond 3D printing using the same kind of additive manufacturing processes, but with materials designed to react to specific external stimuli. These materials already have a history of use in things like smart clothing and drug delivery systems, so the technology itself isn’t new, just how it’s being applied in this kind of manufacturing.
So how is 4D different? Researchers have mapped and learned how to harness the responses of certain materials, such as the swelling and stiffness properties of a composite hydrogel material made of cellulose fibrils, which can be ‘programmed’ to react in a specific way to changes in temperature, pressure, or waterflow. Imagine water pipes that can self-heal, valves that can self-seal, or pipes that will change their diameter according to environmental changes happening around them.
Other materials can also be “programmed” to be responsive to light, heat, or electrical response. As research moves forward on 4D applications, this may lead to structures that can be printed and shipped flat to be ‘restructured’ on-site with the application of the proper stimuli, rather like Marvin the Martian’s “10,000 Instant Martians (just add water)” army. This could also lead to parts that have a known end-of-life key-code that will break them down for a simple removal and recycling option.
The primary benefit of 4D printing will be its ability to create adaptive and customized products for the entire product life cycle, not only during the product’s maturity stage, but from introduction through decline.
Guest Blogger – Marla Keene
Technology writer, Marla Keene, works for AX Control Inc, an industrial automation supplier located in North Carolina. Her articles have been featured on Medium, JaxEnter.com, and Allbusiness.com. Before working for AX Control, Marla spent twelve years running her own small business.
Header Photo: Grafner – Getty Images