Advances in 3D Additive Manufacturing technologies are far too often attributed to advances in the actual 3D printers themselves, but the machines are only 1/3 of the equation.
Often times new, innovative materials and software can have an even more profound impact on available products in the industry, or in this case, any industry.
The U.S. army just invested $855,000 in multiple projects around the development of "4D printing" software. Don't let the name fool you. The structures are created using the same 3D printing techniques on the market today, but this software allows for fundamental alterations in part design that allow the final construction to be completed after the part has been created.
By making parts out of hundreds to thousands of little, jointed components we can take advantage of new properties resulting from complicated assemblies. Additionally, we can now create objects that would have originally been too large for the relatively small beds of 3D printers.
These complicated assemblies would be far too labor intensive and costly to manufacture using any other technology available today.
Useful examples would include the dress in the video which behaves differently as we vary the size and placement of the joints throughout the dress's structure. We could also create very large objects previously compressed which snap into place to create a rigid, permanent structure much larger than the compressed one.
A lofty goal of this software would be to fabricate large objects on site in remote locations, like on an air craft carrier or on a colony in space where real estate for such equipment may be at a premium.
The beauty of Additive Manufacturing is that the users see new capabilities such as 4D Printing and come up with their own amazing applications.