Oct 18, 2017 | By Benedict

Officials in the Netherlands have announced the opening of the world's first concrete 3D printed bridge for cyclists. The bridge, that will serve two-wheeled commuters in the southeastern town of Gemert, is eight meters long and crosses a water-filled ditch.

Gemert's new 3D printed concrete bridge opened to cyclists this week

(Image: Bart Maat/EPA)

Cyclists in the Netherlands already have it pretty good. Around a quarter of all journeys made in the European country are make by bicycle, and the country is estimated to own 18 million bikes. With the population at just over 17 million right now, that’s more than one bike per person!

You can see why the Dutch would make the most of bicycles too. The country is incredibly flat, which means cycling from town to town can be as easy as taking a morning stroll. Additionally, wide-ranging infrastructural efforts mean that most cycling routes are safely separated from traffic.

Those happy cyclists now have another reason to celebrate, because the Dutch town of Gemert has just opened the world’s first 3D printed concrete bicycle bridge. We first reported on the additive manufacturing project back in June, when the Technical University in Eindhoven and the Royal BAM Group had just started work on the 3D printed bridge.

Unlike another Netherlands bridge, MX3D’s long-mooted 3D printed pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam, the Gemert project didn’t seem to encounter any delays over its three-month construction period, and welcomed its first riders this week.

And while the bridge might not look remarkable to the uninformed observer, the concrete 3D printing technique used to create the Gemert bridge makes it something of a global landmark.

It may not, however, be able to claim the title of the world’s first 3D printed concrete bridge. Some media outlets are reporting it to be so, but the city of Alcobendas in Spain actually unveiled its own 3D printed concrete pedestrian bridge in 2016.

That Spanish structure has a total length of 12 meters and a width of 1.75 meters and is printed in micro-reinforced concrete. It was designed by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), and developed using parametric design.

The Gemert 3D printed bridge during construction

Elsewhere, two plastic 3D printed bridges were unveiled in July at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at Shanghai’s Tongji University. These two 3D printed bridges measure four meters and 11 meters, respectively, and were printed in just 360 hours.

Still, as the world’s first 3D printed bicycle bridge, the newly opened Gemert structure will still occupy its own small space in the history books.

“The bridge is not very big, but it was rolled out by a printer, which makes it unique,” Theo Salet, from the Eindhoven University of Technology, told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

The 3D printed bridge has around 800 layers, and is made of reinforced, pre-stressed concrete with a steel cable running through it to handle tensile stress. It took around three months to put together.

But perhaps the most important feature of the 3D printed bridge is its eco-friendly construction process. Much less concrete is needed to 3D print structures like this than to build them in traditional ways, since the printer deposits the concrete only where it is needed. This helps to reduce CO2 emissions.

Ultimately, it is this reduction in pollutants that could make 3D printing a viable production tool, especially in environmentally conscious countries like the Netherlands.

“We are looking to the future,” said Marinus Schimmel, head of BAM. “[We are] searching for a newer, smarter approach to addressing infrastructure issues and making a significant contribution to improving the mobility and sustainability of our society.”

Although the bridge will only have to support the weight of a few cyclists at a time, it has been tested with weights up to five tons. After all, given the futuristic nature of the project, the developers couldn’t be seen to be taking any chances.

BAM and the Technical University in Eindhoven expect “hundreds” of cyclists to ride over the 3D printed bridge every day.

The bridge is part of the Noord-Om project, a new section of ring road around the village of Gemert.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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