Additive Manufacturing Bridges Gaps

MX3D, a Dutch robotics firm, 3D-printed a functional stainless steel bridge for pedestrians in Amsterdam’s red light district. The production took half a year, but the end result is so much more than a simple bridge.

Header Picture © MX3D

Not only does 3D printing bridge gaps between different industries, but it also enables us to overcome real obstacles. Last year, the company MX3D introduced the first smart 3D-printed bridge and presented it at the Dutch Design Week. Not later than by the mid of 2019, the bridge will be installed across a channel on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal in Amsterdam’s red light district.

The Dutch Robotics Firm MX3D

For the robotics firm called MX3D, which is located in Amsterdam, 3D printing is part of their everyday working lives. They develop ground-breaking robotic additive manufacturing technology and use it not only to construct bridges, but also the Cucuyo, a cocoon shaped café, and sculptures like the butterfly screen. On their official website, they write:

“We innovate by constantly creating new strategies and software solutions to print a large variety of metal alloys in virtually any size and shape; learning by doing is key. In close collaboration with our global industrial partners, our engineers and software experts make robotic 3D metal printing available to industry.”

MX3D combined an industrial robot, a welding machine and software to make their 3D printers that enable them to produce outstanding objects like the smart bridge. For this project, they furthermore teamed up with a consortium of mathematicians, IoT specialists and many more, like the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) or The Alan Turing Institute.

A Bridge Full of Details

The bridge is 41-foot-long and took half a year, four robots and 9,920 pounds of stainless steel to be completed. The company actually planned to print the bridge on the spot in Amsterdam with the help of robots, but the city refused. Still, it was entirely 3D-printed in mid-air in a factory building nearby.

This video provides only a few but highly fascinating insights into the process of construction:

Outer and Inner Values

Despite the futuristic look of the bridge, it will also be provided with a smart sensor network so that changes in the bridge’s ‘health’ can be monitored and controlled in real time. These sensors will collect structural measurements such as strain, displacement and vibration, and will measure environmental factors such as air quality and temperature. This enables potentially invisible or upcoming weaknesses to be identified and repaired immediately.

In order to monitor the condition of the bridge, there will be a ‘digital twin’ of it: a living computer model updated in real time with the data collected by the sensors. This approach will not only ensure that the bridge is safe at any time, but it is also helpful for the designs of future 3D-printed metallic structures.

MX3D combined a variety of advanced technologies like additive manufacturing and robotics and created an innovative, (by now) unique and beautiful piece of architecture. Time will tell what else is possible with the help of 3D printing.

3D printing of buildings and bridges becomes more and more common, until one day it’ll probably be the standard procedure. What do you think will be the next architectural objects to be constructed with the help of additive manufacturing?