4D Printing Saves 3D Lives

Slowly, a 3D model of the Eiffel Tower emerges from liquid resin, and Andover students spring up from their chairs, intrigued by the newly formed replica of the famous landmark. 3D printing has existed since the 1980s, yet it has only recently caught the interest of the public.

I have been in love with robotics and technology since I was young; whenever I saw construction supplies like cardboard or wooden sticks, I would think, “What can I build with this?” I would then proceed to gather supplementary materials like chopsticks and rubber bands to make catapults and simple vehicles.

So, when I first encountered the 3D printer at a local library, I was simply overwhelmed by the endless possibilities of the objects I could make with these amazing machines. I also clearly remember how excited I was on my revisit day to visit The Nest, which I had repeatedly read about on the school website and in The Phillipian. After seeing the four 3D printers in person, I was determined to make things that help others the moment I arrived on campus as a new student.

In case you are not familiar with the technology, 3D printing works through a process called additive manufacturing, which allows virtual representations of three-dimensional objects to be physically produced. The process is fairly simple: you start with the digital file of the 3D model, and the printer prints it.

This simple and innovative method has attracted professionals in many different fields, some of which include art, fashion, engineering, and medicine. Especially in the medical field, 3D printing has become a versatile tool for doctors. Printed medical equipment is used in numerous areas, and prosthetic parts are inexpensive to print and easily customizable.

I am lucky enough to have had a myriad of opportunities to work with 3D printing, and I have recently been thinking about how 3D printing technology can and will affect our future. At Eve Tech — a club I created to research and develop novel technologies like 4D printing (with the fourth dimension being time) and artificial muscles — we are trying to build an innovative prosthetic hand that incorporates our research currently conducted on next-generation prosthetics in order to enhance the user experience.

Incorporating these novel technologies into surgical or medical processes is the goal of many doctors, too. A team of doctors and biomedical engineers at the University of Michigan have recently 4D printed a splint that is able to grow in size along with the weak bronchial tubes of an infant. In this way, 4D printing is a new and effective method for doctors to help their patients.

Now, what exactly is our job as citizens in the 21st century? It is, of course, impractical for all of us to start developing innovative ways to help others. But, I do believe that we should raise awareness, learn about, and support these life-saving technologies. It is crucial for us to acknowledge how important 3D and 4D printing is, because harnessing the power of these new technologies will equip us for the future and may even help save our lives.