World's First 3-D Printed Metal Bridge Underway


The world’s first 3-D printed metal pedestrian bridge will soon span a canal in Amsterdam, after a tumultuous series of redesigns that were required in order to factor in the limits of the old walls of the canal.

With an organic design, the bridge is close to 40 feet long and is about one-third of the way complete. Dutch 3-D-printing start-up MX3D—the printer behind the bridge—hopes to see a completion date in the latter part of 2018.

Printing the Pedestrian Bridge

The bridge, which is set to span the historic Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, was designed with two purposes in mind:

  • To act as a pedestrian bridge for those on foot and cyclists; and
  • To serve as a “living laboratory,” using a network of sensors that monitor variables such as displacement, strain, vibration, as well as nearby temperature and air quality.

The data from the bridge will be collected and monitored by MX3D and The Alan Turing Institute. From there, the information will be rendered into a constantly updated 3-D model of the bridge, which will allow for close monitoring of bridge performance and future design refinement.

According to MX3D, the robots used for the project were standard industrial robots with purpose-built tools that worked in conjunction with software custom developed to control them.

“The 3-D printed bridge being installed by the MX3D team next year will be a world first in engineering,” Professor Mark Girolami, Chair in Statistics in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College, London, told ArchDaily. “This data-centric, multidisciplinary approach to capturing the bridge’s data will also mark a step-change in the way bridges are designed, constructed, and managed, generating valuable insights for the next generation of bridges and other major public structures.

“It is a powerful embodiment of what data-centric engineering can deliver as a discipline, and I look forward to seeing the bridge in action from summer next year.”

Bridge Timeline

The concept for the bridge was first unveiled in June of 2015, and October of that same year saw the full launch of the endeavor. 3-D printing plans continued on course up through July of 2016, when the project ran into a clash “with the traditional world of typical construction engineering,” according to MX3D.

According to the company, the engineering software used to address functionality and safety requirements could not handle the geometry of the initial design. Another important factor was also an unknown—just how much stress could the canal walls actually withstand? All of these factors combined resulted in having to go back to square one on the design, with a focus on reducing complexity and avoiding tension stress as much as possible.

In November 2016, Arup joined the team as lead structural engineer and contributed toward designing the bridge using a sheet-construction approach, rather than being focused on volume optimization. According to MX3D, the sheet concept demonstrated that it “works primarily with compression forces using stress analysis software to generate force lines through the object.”

Shortly after this breakthrough, the final design was finished.

As it stands, the bridge is slated to open in June of 2018, granted the canal wall renovation has been completed.

The bridge itself was designed by Joris Larmaan Lab, with ArcelorMittal providing metallurgical knowledge.


Tagged categories: 3D printing; Bridges; EU; Europe; Infrastructure; Program/Project Management; Robotics

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