World's First 3D-Printed Steel Bridge Installed
Earlier this month, what has been touted as the world’s first ever 3D-printed steel bridge, was installed over Oudezijds Achterburgwal, a street and canal in De Wallen—the oldest neighborhood within Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The MX3D-developed structure was unveiled to the public last Thursday (July 15) by Máxima, her majesty the Queen, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
While the 3D-printed bridge reportedly took two years to construct, its development was first announced back in 2015 when those involved were gearing up to discuss what the ultimate poster project might look like with MX3D’s first main sponsor, Autodesk.
To showcase all of the team’s facets of technology (which included Joris Laarman Lab as the project’s designer and Arup as its lead engineer), MX3D came up with the idea of a bridge over one of the old canals in Amsterdam—serving as a type of metaphor for connecting the technology of the future with the beautiful city’s past in a way that would reveal the best aspects of both worlds.
Later that year, a workshop was opened by Elderwoman Kasja Ollongren and CEO of Heijmans, Bert van der Els to construct the bridge. Other companies were also added to the team, including ArcelorMittal, ABB Robotics, Lenovo, Air Liquide, Plymovent and Oerlikon.
By 2016, the design for the project was on the verge of being finalized, revealing a very pure application of topological optimization—a technique observed early on in Joris Laarman Lab’s pioneering of its Bone Furniture collection. To create the design, the team utilized Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher software in collaboration with the engineering expertise of Heijmans.
In November, Arup was brought on board to develop a sheet-construction approach rather than the previously attempted one centered around volume optimization. This decision arrived after some project setbacks and is reported to work primarily with compression forces using stress analysis software to generate force lines through the object. With the help of the advanced technology, the team discovered that bridge heads were not entirely parallel and decided to edit the design to have an asymmetrical shape.
In 2017, the team officially announced that Joris and Arup had completed the bridge’s design. Following the 18-month process of engineering, designing, re-engineering, re-designing, discovering the world behind permits, safety measures, canal wall renovation, re-designing, programming, fundraising, test printing, re-designing and re-programmin, printing could now begin to take place.
To start, the team began printing pieces measuring roughly one meter in size and would later be assembled together. The process used a specific 3d-printing technique described as wire and arc additive manufacturing, which combines robotics with welding.
“If you want to have a really highly decorated bridge or really aesthetic bridge, suddenly it becomes a good option to print it,” said Tim Geurtjens of MX3D. “Because it’s not just about making things cheaper and more efficient for us, it’s about giving architects and designers a new tool — a new very cool tool — in which they can rethink the design of their architecture and their designs.”
With about a third of the structure completed by the end of 2017, MX3D reported that a robot had been directly mounted onto the bridge and that an innovative sensor network was also being installed using instruments from Autodesk, Force Technology, Imperial College London, Lenovo and HBM. Once completed, the structure was slated to serve as a living laboratory for data scientists.
In 2018, the bridge was awarded the 3D Pioneers Challenge in the digital category. The same year, the bridge would also receive the STARTS Prize and the Dutch Design Award for design research. It was later display at the Dutch Design Week from October 20-28, 2018, following construction completion.
The following year, the bridge underwent final testing at the University of Twente, where it was tested under a 20-ton load. The structure’s smart sensor system was also tested at that time.
Finally, this year the structure was placed across the Oudezijds Achterburgwal in Amsterdam’s red light district and was opened to the public following a ribbon cutting by her Majesty the Queen.
Having used 4,500 kilograms of stainless steel to create, the 6-ton structure measures 12 meters long and took four commercially available industrial robots and a total of six months to print.
Decked out in a sensor system, the bridge will now serve to monitor the strain, movement, vibration and temperature throughout use and weather changes, where its collected data will be fed to a digital model of the bridge.
This information will then be studied by engineers to better understand the properties of the unique material and will employ machine learning to spot any trends in the data that could indicate maintenance or modification is necessary. However, engineers also help that the data could be used to help designers for larger and more complex 3D-printed building projects.
Not only will the structure serve as a vessel to explore the role of IOT systems within a built environment, but Micha Mos, a councilor at Amsterdam municipality, believes the structure could attract new tourists in the area.
“This may attract a new kind of visitor, one who is more interested in architecture and design, which will help change the way the neighborhood is perceived as more of something you want to visit but visit respectfully than it has been over the few last decades,” he said.
In all, the MX3D Bridge was designed by Joris Laarman Lab, Arup served as the lead structural engineer, ArcelorMittal provided the metallurgical expertise, Autodesk assisted with their knowledge on digital production tools, Heijmans served as the team’s construction expert, Lenovo supported computational hardware, ABB was the robotics specialist, Air Liquide & Oerlikon was responsible for welding and lastly, Plymovent protected the air quality whilst AMS and TU Delft conducted invaluable research.
Gemeente Amsterdam is the first customer of the team’s collaborative bridge building department.