3D printing was once heralded as the “second industrial revolution”, with many assuming that 3D printers would become as ubiquitous a household object as ordinary printers. In June, however, designer Francis Bitonti declared that 3D printing had failed to live up to its expectations, and was stagnating.

In an interview with Dezeen, Bitonti said that until 3D printer producers, like MakerBot, understand the needs and wants of designers, 3D printers will be nothing more than a ‘toy’:

“The manufacturer of the tools is making assumptions about what I’m going to produce, which is what makes it a toy. And a toy is not going to be the next industrial revolution like everybody’s saying.

The problem, argues Bitonti, is worsened by the fact that 3D design software doesn’t fully understand 3D printing. 3D printing is more complicated than simply creating a 3D image and then printing it – to successfully create something, “You have to understand the unique material properties of 3D printing”. For 3D printing to reach its full potential therefore, design software must advance.

Thankfully, companies such as Autodesk – creator of leading computer-aided design application (CAD), AutoCAD – recognise this. Not only are they updating their existing software to improve design capabilities, but they are also leading the way in 3D design software that is optimised for 3D printing.

Dutch research start-up MX3D, for example, has teamed up with Autodesk to create a completely functional, and entirely 3D printed, steel bridge in Amsterdam. MX3D will use Autodesk software to design the bridge, and if the project is successful then company designer Joris Laarman believes that it will pave the way for 3D printing within large-scale architecture and manufacturing. It seems that despite Bitonti’s concerns, 3D printing is not stagnating.

Indeed, the multi-dimensional printing world is set to advance even further in coming years. Just as design software seems to be getting to grips with 3D printing, a new contender is being introduced: 4D printing. Again, Autodesk are leading the way with this, and are working with MIT and Stratasys to add an extra dimension to printed goods.

By adding the dimension of time, objects printed in 4D have the ability to respond to a stimulus – for example, water or heat. As with 3D printing, some of the most exciting applications of 4D printing are set to come from the medical world. By printing medical implants in 4D, it is possible that they could last a lifetime, adapting and changing with the body accordingly. This would eliminate the need for multiple invasive surgeries.

The implications of 4D printing could be huge – from clothing, to medicine, to household appliances, it could completely revolutionise manufacturing. The technology is still new, however, and many more tests need to be done before 4D printing can become the norm. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see whether or not multi-dimensional printing can truly become the industrial revolution that many hoped it would be.

Image courtesy off – Kaboompics