Dutch company MX3D has just unveiled its plans to print a bridge across a canal in Amsterdam - insitu.
MX3D co-founder and chief technology officer Tim Geurtjens spoke to NCE about how the team behind the project had gone about designing the elegantly optimised structure in the Dutch city.
3D printing may not be ultra-new technology, but it normally involves an object being built up in a closed environment. The MX3D bridge will be built outdoors by robots.
“What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘printing outside the box’ principle,” said Geurtjens. “By printing with six-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens.
“Printing a functional, life-size bridge is of course the ideal way to showcase the endless possibilities of this technique.”
The robot works by constantly adding material, in this case stainless steel, to the structure.
“The robot is linked with an advanced welding machine,” said Geurtjens. “We’ve developed software to be able to use this combination to constantly add material in a controlled matter: 3D printing.
“We found after carrying out tests together with the TU-delft University last year that the stainless steel retains at least 90% of its original strength.”
The design of the bridge, which will carry both pedestrian and cyclists, has been based on topology optimisation calculations which have been carried out together with Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher software.
Geurtjens said that the team had been developing the MX3D metal technique for two years and started designing the bridge around 18 months ago.
He said that the 8m-to-10m long bridge would take about five months to construct subject to the final design, which is currently in its final stage.
Initially the bridge will be installed as a temporary structure, but Geurtjens said that the potential lifespan of the bridge was as long as any other crossing.
Looking to the future, Geurtjens said that the structure would be monitored to see how it performed to improve any future projects and techniques.
“The whole process is self-teaching,” he said “With any bridge or other construction it prints it will get smarter,” he said.
“It is cost-effective and scalable, much more so than current 3D printing methods, and offers creative robotic production solutions for art, construction, manufacturing, and more.