Forget 3D printing - the future of manufacturing is 4D printing complex structures that can assemble themselves.

In the future, manufacturing may get a whole lot easier, with scientists now developing 4D printing technology that allows them to create structures that can actually build themselves.

This episode of RiAus's A Week in Science explains how 4D printing works, and some of its incredible potential.

Right now, 3D printing allows us to create highly complex structures using a computer design. However, these parts still need to be put together into a final structure. But 4D printing goes a step further, and prints high-tech materials that, when activated by a substance such as water or heat, assemble themselves. 

These structures are made by combining plastic and a smart "memory material", which can remember a previous shape and revert back to it under certain conditions, like this amazing shape-shifting paperclip.

This means researchers can print flat-pack objects that are easy to ship, but then can assemble themselves on arrival - potentially saving us hours of messing around with Allen keys and cryptic Ikea instructions.

Objects can also be 4D printed so that they change form in different conditions - for example an umbrella could change into a broad shade screen when it gets sunny, and then morph back into rain protection when it's wet.

Find out more about recent breakthroughs in 4D printing technology and how it can be used in medicine in the episode of A Week in Science above.

Source: RiAus