Imagine taking home some new 'self-assembly' furniture. No, I'm not talking about an IKEA chair you assembled yourself. Rather, something that will slowly reconstruct itself. Although it takes out the fun part (or frustrating in the eyes of a few engineers that would say, 'I can make this better'), the art of design and engineering objects that can self-assemble has reach the next level.
Using a Stratasys 3D Printer, MIT Professor Skylar Tibbits created an specific design with joints engineered to move in a particular direction. Coated with a hydrophilic material and then immersed in water , the piece bends over time into the intended shape. These are early days - don't hold your breath for above-water furniture anytime soon.
Self-replicating machines as an idea is nothing new. Something which can assemble itself is a whole different story. The latest step forward has been 3D Printing. Tool-less production means an infinite variety of parts with just one 3D Printer. The next challenge has been to remove human hands from the assembly process - Tibbit's 4D Printed pieces are a step in the right direction.
From a CAD Design or Engineering perspective, modelling would take on another dimension (pun unintended) as t would be an equal partner with x, y and z. How the final design folds and interlocks with itself would depend heavily on how each folding point is engineered. The type of material used in different parts might impact folding time. In other words, you could have a lot of fun!
Taking the possibilities one step further, 4D printing condenses the responsibilities of manufacturing into the hands of the Designer. Problems of reaching ideal economies of scale to offset hand or machine assembly costs are done away with - print and self-assemble products when needed. And best of all, with places like GrabCAD, it's easier to craft, collaborate and share a single design that, at least in theory, anyone could download and self-assemble.