Sep 20, 2017 | By Benedict

MX3D, a robotic additive manufacturing company based in Amsterdam, has offered an update on its long-mooted 3D printed steel bridge. The bridge, designed by Joris Laarman and funded by Autodesk, is 1/3 complete, and should be finished around June next year.

There’s a slightly worrying tendency in the world of 3D printing—and technology in general—to pick up on a story about a new project, celebrate its grand ambition, and then forget about it before know whether it was ever finished. We’re certainly guilty of the habit ourselves on occasion.

It’s easy to see why it happens. 3D printing is a new technology, and organizations are constantly finding exciting new applications for it. When one of those applications comes into the public domain, it’s often newsworthy, but constant stage-by-stage updates on the success or failure of the project often aren’t.

In one particular case, however, an update is certainly due, because this is a project that gets name-dropped all the time.

This 3D printed steel bridge in Amsterdam, designed and developed by Amsterdam company MX3D, has been under construction since October 2015. And its construction is often referenced, alongside the similarly snail-paced 3D Print Canal House, as an example of what large-scale additive manufacturing is all about.

“We equip typical industrial robots with purpose-built tools and develop the software to control them,” MX3D explains. “The unique approach allows us to 3D print strong, complex, and graceful structures out of metal.”

But where is the bridge? Can you walk across it yet? Well, it’s still under construction at MX3D HQ, one-third printed, so no, it’s not ready. But the company has said the project will be finalized “some time next year,” with a June 2018 public unveiling being its best guess. The 3D printing company has also offered a few further updates on the bridge project.

For starters, the company is saying that the 3D printed steel bridge isn’t just an example of metal 3D printing on a grand scale; it’s rather an experiment to see how high-tech machine learning robots can learn “on the job” to improve the design and 3D printing process behind the structure.

As such, the bridge has gone through radical redesigns since its conception—for several reasons. At first, it was going to be supported by a lattice of struts and placed across the famous Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. But problems arose with this plan, as the city discovered that the old walls of the canal would not be able to support the steel structure.

This sparked a busy process of reimagining the bridge, and the structure—despite retaining some characteristically “3D printed” bends and twists—now resembles a more conventional pedestrian bridge. It’s not just the Amsterdam city council that’s been suggesting redesigns though—the software itself is designed to constantly look for improvements in the design.

Other factors that have caused MX3D to delay the completion of its headline-grabbing structure include the company programming its software to build up the steel in a way that doesn’t weaken the cooling metal by subjecting it to premature reheating.

In this vein, MX3D has also been working on machine learning algorithms that can help the company’s robotic 3D printing equipment to create the right 3D geometries for strong welds. The company says its technology is now capable of resolving potential weld problems mid-print, as well as during the design stage.

Ultimately though, it seems that MX3D is taking its time over the steel 3D printed bridge because, well, there’s not exactly an urgent demand for it. Amsterdam’s canals are full of bridges, and this 3D printed structure is more a showcase for additive manufacturing technology than a necessary solution to an urban problem.

By postponing the unveiling of the bridge until the perfect design has been found, MX3D, Autodesk, and all other parties involved in the project are ensuring that the steel bridge will indeed showcase the best that steel 3D printing has to offer.

I suppose we can wait just a little longer. June 2018, then?



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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aa wrote at 9/26/2017 4:16:21 PM:

nice but still not good

aa wrote at 9/25/2017 6:15:11 PM:

nice! but still not good...

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