4D Printing: Multi-Material Shape-Change

A collaboration between: Stratasys’ Education & Research & Development | Skylar Tibbits | The Self-Assembly Lab, MIT

In a collaboration between Stratasys’ Education, R&D departments and MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, a new process is being developed, coined 4D Printing, which demonstrates a radical shift in rapid-prototyping, RP.

4D Printing entails multi-material prints provided by the Connex Technology with the added capability of embedded transformation from one shape to another, directly off the print-bed.

Video: Self-Assembly Lab, MIT from Skylar Tibbits

This revolutionary technique offers a streamlined path from idea to reality with full functionality built directly into the materials. Imagine robotics-like behavior without the reliance on complex electro-mechanical devices!

Self-assembly and encoded information-based folding are the fundamental attributes of the most important natural processes in life as we know it, while also emerging in nearly every field and every scale-length from biology to materials science and robotics. We have recently demonstrated that this phenomenon is scale-independent and can be utilized for self-constructing, manufacturing and adaptive systems at nearly every scale.

4D Printing provides the first look into pure programmability of materials with a streamlined making process and passive-energy transformation.

Video: 4D Printing: Cube Self-Folding Strand from Skylar Tibbits

With Stratasys’ Connex technology for research usages and 4D printing process, a single print, with multi-material features, can transform from any 1D strand into 3D shape, 2D surface into 3D shape or morph from one 3D shape into another.

Using only water as its activation energy, this technique promises new possibilities for embedding programmability and simple decision making into non-electronic based materials.

4D Printing also offers adaptability and dynamic response for structures and systems of all sizes. As environmental, economic, human and other constraints continue to fluctuate, we will eventually need dynamic systems that can respond with ease and agility. 4D Printing is the first of its kind to offer this exciting capability.

Video: 4D Printing: MIT Self-Folding Strand into the letters “MIT” from Skylar Tibbits

Future applications may be seen within the construction and manufacturing or advanced materials industries where parts can self-transform from raw materials to final built-in-place structures without human intervention.

This is truly a radical shift in our understanding of structures, which have up to this point, remained static and rigid (aero-space, automotive, building industries etc) and will soon be dynamic, adaptable and tunable for on-demand performance.

4D Printing enhanced by multi-materials technology may likely revolutionize our ability to control and precisely program materials from idea-conception to printing shape-changing transformations.

The Self-Assembly Lab is a cross-disciplinary research lab at MIT composed of designers, scientists and engineers inventing self-assembly technologies aimed at reimagining the processes of construction, manufacturing and assembly at all scale-lengths.

The lab’s vision proposes new design processes, new assembly technologies and information-rich materials that seamlessly blend the worlds of digital computation and physical production.

Self-assembly of man-made systems and processes promises to enable breakthroughs across every application of biology, material science, software, robotics, manufacturing, transportation, construction, the arts, and even space exploration. The Self-Assembly Lab is working with academic, commercial, nonprofit, and government partners, collaborators, and sponsors to make our self-assembling future a reality.

Self-Assembly Lab Director Skylar Tibbits is a trained Architect, Computer Scientist and Artist whose research focuses on developing self-assembly technologies for large-scale structures in our physical environment. Skylar is currently a faculty member in MIT’s Department of Architecture, teaching graduate and undergraduate design studios and co-teaching How to Make (Almost)Anything, a seminar at MIT’s Media Lab.

Skylar was recently awarded a TED2012 Senior Fellowship, a TED2011 Fellowship and has been named a Revolutionary Mind in SEED Magazine’s 2008 Design Issue. Previously, he has worked at a number of renowned design offices including: Zaha Hadid Architects, Asymptote Architecture and Point b Design. He has designed and built large-scale installations around the world, including in New York, Philadelphia, Paris, Calgary, Berlin, Frankfurt, Long Beach, Edinburgh and Cambridge. He has also exhibited work at prestigious institutions, including; The Guggenheim Museum NY, the Beijing Biennale, Storefront for Art and Architecture and lectured at MoMA and SEED Media Group’s MIND08 Conference. He has been published extensively online and in print outlets such as the New York Times, Wired, Nature, Fast Company, various peer-reviewed journals and books including: Architectural Design: Material Computation, Fabricate: Making Digital Architecture, Digital Fabrication in Architecture, Testing to Failure, Scripting Cultures and Form + Code.

As a guest critic, Skylar has visited schools around the world including; The University of Pennsylvania, The Institute for Computational Design, The Architectural Association, Pratt Institute and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Skylar graduated from Philadelphia University with a 5 yr. Bachelor of Architecture degree and minor in experimental computation. Continuing his education at MIT, he received a Masters of Science in Design + Computation and a Masters of Science in Computer Science under the guidance of advisors; Patrick Winston, Neil Gershenfeld, Erik Demaine and Terry Knight.

Skylar is also the founder and principal of a multidisciplinary architecture, art and design practice, SJET LLC. Started in 2007 as platform for experimental computation and design, SJET has grown into a research-based practice crossing disciplines from architecture, design, sculpture, fabrication, computer science, toys to robotics.

Our sincere appreciation to Skylar Tibbits and MIT Department of Architecture for permission to publish content of this inspiring and fascinating 4D Printing technique.

4D Printing Contributing Credits:

Skylar Tibbits
TED Senior Fellow
MIT Department of Architecture
Director, Self-Assembly Lab, MIT
Founder & Principal, SJET LLC
www.selfassemblylab.net | www.sjet.us

Shelly Linor & Daniel Dikovsky
Education & Research & Development
Stratasys Ltd.
For more information about 4D printing at Stratasys

Carlos Olguin
Bio/Nano Programmable Matter Research Group

www.selfassemblylab.net | www.sjet.us | www.bioselfassembly.net | www.scriptedbypurpose.net



  1. 4D printing is expected to play a very important role in manufacturing processes. The printing technology enabled programmed material to be 1D or 2D printed and self-transform into 3D object based on the embedded program. Major drivers of adoption of 4D printing technology will be need to reduce manufacturing and process costs and the awareness toward achieving sustainable environment.

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