In a collaboration between 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys’ Education and R&D Departments and MIT’s new Self-Assembly Lab, a new printing technique centered around self-assembling, ‘smart’ materials is being used right now. Hold onto your pants ladies and gentlemen, 4D Printing is here.

4D Printing: 3D Printing With ‘Smart’ Materials

“…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!”
-Skylar Tibbits, MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab

While the concept of self-assembly has been around for years on a nano-scale, Skylar Tibbits’ ‘architecture-designer-computer scientist’ background, mixed with today’s digital fabrication technologies are allowing him to lead the lab with experiments aimed at larger, self-assembling shapes and products—imagine self-assembling furniture or structures and you’ll get the idea:

In terms of this collaborative project with the Lab and Stratasys, 4D printing entails multi-material prints provided by the Connex Technology with transformation capabilities embedded directly into the prints from one shape to another. Working with a brand new material from Stratasys that transforms in water, Skylar has been programming his 3D prints to expand and self-assemble into a pre-determined shape….like the MIT logo for example:

In terms of the programming side of things, the Lab has collaborated with Autodesk Research on the development of their new software, called Cyborg: a design platform spanning applications from the nano-scale to the human-scale. According to Skylar, “This software allows for simulated self-assembly and programmable materials as well as optimization for design constraints and joint folding. The aim is to tightly couple this new cross-disciplinary and cross-scalar design tool with the real-world material transformation of 4D printing. The tightly coupled software and hardware tools will eliminate the traditional paradigms of 1. simulating then building or 2. building then adjusting the simulation. This coupled workflow will be unprecedented in the simulation adjusting physical performance and materials promoting new simulated possibilities.”

For more info on Skylar and the Self-Assembly Lab, head to Skylar’s SJET.


Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.