Promising Technology:

Printing and Materials

Our Art-Driven Innovation database includes projects from the following sub-fields of this theme:

More and more 3D printed food or ingredients are produced on time for direct use on the spot. Nearly all dishes can be imagined in a “printed” rather than cooked version. Even cake or cookies can be printed – without a bakery. The advantage is that missing ingredients do not need an additional shopping tour but can be printed out of a basic powder where and when needed; that is, fresh and in the amounts required, fitting a certain diet. Furthermore, the quality and taste remain the same every time, there are no deviations. Many professional chefs are currently exploring the use of 3D printing for culinary purposes.

The ability to manipulate glass is bursting with potential, as glass is an essential high-performance material, because of its unparalleled optical transparency, excellent mechanical, chemical and thermal resistance, and thermal and electrical insulating properties. These outstanding features recommend its use in applications in biotechnology (microfluidic devices), optics, photonics, data transmission. The advancements in 3D printing of glass pave the way for creating laboratory-grade equipment but also for bringing production in-house, so that technicians can get a more proximate finish. Artistic expression could also reach new bounds in experimentation with complex and geometric structures.

Not only small equipment but also large objects or the major components of large objects will be 3D printed in the near future. First applications in the engines of a Boeing 747 have proven feasibility. Should the engine prove itself a success in the long term, 3D printed engine components could soon become commonplace. The same for turbines in wind generation facilities. Tyres and other large-scale objects from daily life can also be manufactured in an additive way – at the location where they are needed and with the functionality that is required. Even complete buildings can be raised in a very fast way by a 3D printing robot using glue instead of mortar. Bridges can be built with 3D printing. Other possibilities are to split the work to many printers, robots or “spiders”. The large objects (and their functions) are optimized by a special design software that can adapt the material and functionality to the requirements of the environment. With virtual reality the prototypes can be “seen” and “tested” – this is much more than classical Rapid Prototyping.

4D printing is conventional 3D printing (the latter term is often used synonymously with “additive manufacturing”) combined with the additional element of time and, sometimes, movement. Researchers around the globe have been developing various “intelligent”, programmable materials that can change their geometric configuration in a controllable way, in a reversible or irreversible manner.

Hydrogels are natural or synthetic polymeric networks capable of holding large amounts of water (over 90%). Owing to their water content, they exhibit “a degree of flexibility comparable to that of natural tissues”. Due to their biomimetism, hydrogels are among “the leading materials for biomedical applications such as drug delivery and stem cell therapy”.

Hydrogels hold great promise in the medical field. In the near future, hydrogels will provide the basis for first-aid kits enabling us to literally patch ourselves up. In more technologically sophisticated developments, curative soft robots will have access to the cells of living organisms, where they will perform surgeries at microscopic and submicroscopic level. 3D-printed hydrogels in the form of a patient’s tumour will provide testing grounds for the correct therapy to target that particular tumour – a radical step towards personalized cancer treatment.

As interactions with robots will likely be more common, their capacity to manage our emotional behaviour and thus to form emotional connections with humans will be important. One way to enhance communication with robots is if the latter change their colour in response to our mood, if they detect an illness, or for other reasons. Stimuli-responsive hydrogels integrated in mobile phone screens will enable interactive displays to “sense environmental chemicals and pollutants, or changes in pH and temperature”.

Self-healing is the capability of materials to diagnose and to fully or partially “heal” (recover/repair) internal damages all by themselves. For a material to be “autonomously self-healing”, it is essential that the healing takes place without human involvement.

At various points in the future, you will be able to repair your ripped jeans just by adding water. And when dropped, your smartwatch, laptop or cell phone will self-heal the cracks in its display. These devices’ batteries will also last longer, among others due to their self-healing properties.

Explanation texts per field are taken from and inspired on:
European Commission, 100 Radical Innovation Breakthroughs for the future (2019) ISBN 978-92-79-99139-4