Jun 12, 2015 | By Alec

Amsterdam has been a tourist hotspot for years, and hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to the city every year. But while most visit for the red light district, the coffee shops at every corner, the museums or the fantastic architecture from the Dutch Renaissance, there will soon be enough to see for 3D printing enthusiasts as well. For Dutch R&D startup MX3D is about to start work on a fantastic new 3D printing project that should be able to withstand time, the Dutch weather and even the weight of all those tourists: a steel bridge over one of the many canals of Amsterdam.

Anyone who has ever visited Amsterdam will have doubtlessly wondered about the seemingly countless bridges in this city, which aren’t actually countless. There are approximately 1280 to be found in the city, many of which date all the way back to the 17th century. And this new bridge by MX3D, which is set to be unveiled in 2017, will be a completely modern take on them. Like many of those old bridges, it is set feature an intricate and ornate design that captures the Dutch style while emphasizing exactly what 3D printing technology and the engineers and 3D printers of MX3D can do. While the location of the bridge hasn’t been announced yet, the ongoing project will be open to visitors from September 2015 in the company’s visitors centre.

MX3D, for those of you who’ve never heard of them, is an innovating R&D startup that have been working to perfect a very irregular 3D printing technique over the past few years: 3D printing metals, plastics and resin in mid-air, without the need for support structures. ‘MX3D invented an affordable multiple axis 3D printing tool; in 2014, we equipped an industrial robot with an advanced welding machine and developed software to control it. It allows us to 3D print strong, complex structures out of sustainable material (metals, resin) in virtually any size or shape,’ they write on their website. And what better project to showcase this on than a bridge?

Key in this printing technology is a multi-axis robot equipped with 3D printing tools. As MX3D’s CTO Tim Geurtjens explains, this opens up a whole new range of 3D printing possibilities, including complex mid-air structures. ‘What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘Printing Outside the box’ principle. By printing with 6-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens. Printing a functional, life-size bridge is of course the ideal way to showcase the endless possibilities of this technique,’ he says.

The bridge itself will be designed by MX3D’s in-house designer Joris Laarman using new Autodesk software specifically designed for this printing technology, while the entire project will be realized through a collaboration between MX3D, Autodesk, Dutch construction company Heijmans and others. As the designer says, he strongly believes that this is the future of production. ‘This bridge will show how 3D printing finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects and sustainable materials while allowing unprecedented freedom of form. The symbolism of the bridge is a beautiful metaphor to connect the technology of the future with the old city, in a way that brings out the best of both worlds.’

But of course this is not just any building project, and as Laarman explained, the idea for a bridge came to them at the airport in San Francisco. ‘We were on our way to a presentation about MX3D, and were brainstorming about what the ultimate poster project would be for showcasing all facets of our technology. We came to the conclusion that a bridge over the old canals of Amsterdam would be a fantastic metaphor for connecting the technology of the future with the city's historic past, in a way which would reveal the best aspects of both worlds,’ he says.

The hope is that this project will change the way the construction industry perceives 3D printing technology and start incorporating 3D printing into their manufacturing process. ‘The project will effectively change the construction sector because it will add something which does not already exist. It will also allow tailor-made and complex metal elements, or combinations of materials, to be manufactured in a cost-effective manner. Digital manufacturing is no longer limited to the geometric capabilities of industrial machines, but actually makes it possible to continuously produce unique parametric shapes with the same level of convenience,’ Laarman says.

And as projects and technologies like this are exactly what is driving the 3D printing revolution forward, we can only hope that this bridge will become another prominent addition to many Amsterdam’s tourist destinations. More about the visitor’s center and the location of the bridge will be unveiled in the near future.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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Matt Cummins wrote at 10/20/2016 5:36:37 PM:

To the MX3D team. Nice work guys. Willy Wonka will never die. Where is the 'High Five' when the robots meet? Matt.

Royce Lowe wrote at 12/26/2015 11:57:34 AM:

I HAVE A QUESTION. Could you please tell me how the mechanical properties of the steel in your bridge might compare with those from rolled steel materials. I am referring here to yield strength, tensile strength, elongation, reduction of area and toughness. Thank you for your consideration.

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