Apr 3, 2018 | By David

The Dutch capital of Amsterdam is well-known for its historic architecture, canals and bridges, but also for its forward-thinking outlook and technological innovation, and a recent 3D printing project will soon see both these sides of its character expressed. Dutch company MX3D has completed the world’s first fully 3D printed steel bridge. We have previously reported on the innovative 3D printed designs of MX3D co-founder Joris Laarman, and this bridge is the company’s most ambitious undertaking so far. It is due to be installed in the city’s famous red light district, over the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal.

(Image credit: Thijs Wolzak)

The bridge is 40 metres in length, and was 3D printed at a larger MX3D facility outside of Amsterdam, before being shipped into the main workshop in the north of the city. The initial plan was to 3D print the entire thing in place in mid-air, using custom robotic 3D printing arms suspended over the canal to gradually build supporting structures underneath and move their way across. As exciting as this possibility was, the project was eventually abandoned due to concerns about control over the environment and interference from pedestrians. After some other teething problems and delays for this pioneering 3D printed bridge project, it is now completely finished.

3D printing technology isn’t the only cutting-edge aspect of this remarkable new project. To ensure safety and optimized performance of this and other bridges, the 3D printed steel structure will be equipped with a series of sensors that will relay important information back to the designers and engineers. This ‘smart’ bridge will monitor its own health, record the number of people walking across it and their speeds, and take measurements of things like weight dispersion and air quality. A ‘digital twin’ bridge model will also be created from the gathered data, allowing future designs to be compared and adapted accordingly.

Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

A few finishing touches will now be applied to the 3D printed steel structure, chiefly the addition of a steel deck, serving as a walkway that will allow pedestrians to actually use the bridge. Protective coats also need to be applied to protect the bridge from the elements.

 “Last Thursday we tested out the bridge with 30 people, and it was fine. It behaves like a bridge like it should,” says MX3D co-founder Gijs van der Velden. “With the bridge deck on top, it will be even stronger.”

As well as being a one-of-a-kind project, the aesthetics of the bridge are also relatively unique. Its design is organic and fabric-like, with lots of curves, and the surface of the bridge has been left unbuffed after construction. This means that the many different layers of deposited steel from the 3D printing process are visible, giving it a rough, unusual finish.

A closeup of the bridge’s rough surface (Photo: Adriaan de Groot)

“If you look at the bridge right now in our workshop it’s very strange,” Laarman told Gizmodo. “It’s a little bit like being in a science fiction story because it looks so different than everything else around. We work in a highly industrial shipyard where everything is geometric in shape, but this bridge doesn’t have a single straight line.”

In collaboration with Arup and Imperial College London, MX3D is now carrying out a number of tests on the bridge, as well as creating spirals for either end to fix it in place.The city of Amsterdam is currently working on improvements to the walls around the 15th century canal that the bridge will be traversing, and the 3D printed bridge will be installed once these are complete.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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