Innovation That Matters

3D printer bridge

3D printed pedestrian bridge to span Amsterdam canal


Connected via sensors for continual safety checks, the 3D steel bridge is printed by robots developed by a design studio based in Amsterdam.

3D printing is facilitating an explosion of experimentation in both form and material. Amsterdam’s MX3D studio is leading the way with its six-axis robot printers capable of printing objects of almost any size. Rather than being restricted by need to print within a machine, the MX3D bots move around the work being printed. This enables for almost any shape to be created. The company has partnered with the city of Amsterdam, Arup and Imperial College London to create a new standard of safety for 3D construction projects. A sensor network has been installed on the bridge by a team of structural engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, and statisticians from The Alan Turing Institute and the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction.  The sensors will provide constant, real-time data, including weight dispersion via a living computer model of the bridge. The safety measurements will be simultaneously tested on a digital version of the structure. This in turn will allow engineers to look for future design tweaks.

Printed with layers of steel, the bridge is likely to attract attention based on its visual design as well as method of creation. A steel deck will complete the structure. The bridge will be located over the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, and installation is planned for late 2018 or early 2019. The design team are already looking into further possibilities for the technology. This includes replacing the need for casts of one-off pieces needed in construction, maritime and aviation industries. As well as monetary and resource savings, using 3D printing in such industries requiring heavy physical and mechanical labour could greatly improve worker safety.

Modular building is another new approach being used in bridge construction with a plastic system replacing the need for heavy machinery, making previously inaccessible areas reachable. Robots are also being used to inspect currently-standing bridges, using ground-penetrating radar and electrical resistivity sensors to look out for steel that’s started to corrode and concrete that’s weakened. How could new construction techniques help replace older structures with newer, more sustainable buildings?



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