At this year's Dutch Design Week, the world's first 3D printed stainless steel bridge was unveiled.
The bridge was produced by a Dutch robotics company named MX3D. It will serve as a crossing over one of Amsterdam's oldest and most famous canals, the Oudezijds Achterburgwal.
Its construction utilized optimization software and a robotic additive manufacturing technology to layer molten steel repetitively. The traditional construction engineering approach to building a bridge has potentially been altered forever.
Six industrial robots equipped with ‘purpose-built tools' assisted in controlling welding machines that fused the bridge together. Reflecting on how the final design of the bridge changed, MX3D said:
“The initial design changed significantly due to the engineering concerns. The lightweight tree-like structure is built on four main bearers. The concern was that if one of these bearers gets hit by a boat, the structure could critically fail. Therefore a totally new concept was created that took into account everything we learned until then about the material, the local specifications and regulations.”
The bridge's structural integrity will be monitored via sensors, which will provide engineers with the data they need to ensure the bridge is structurally sound.
In a virtual space, the data will help build a ‘digital twin' bridge. A computer model will monitor the safety and performance of the bridge based on how many people have crossed it over time. This is something that structures around the world could benefit from. This technology allows engineers to simulate different situations to test out different stresses.
A new term is being coined in the midst of the technological development of bridges: smart bridges. MX3D is confident that construction robots will be widespread in the next five years.
"We have set a vision in which robots would be able to autonomously 3D print infrastructural interventions in our built environment," an MX3D spokesperson said. "The work on this 3D printed bridge will contribute to the future of safe, efficient and data-driven engineering by monitoring the structure as thousands of people and bicycles traverse the bridge hourly in place."
The feat of engineering won them the Dutch Design Award of 2018 in the Design Research category.
“MX3D Bridge.” MX3D, mx3d.com/projects/bridge-2/.
Yalcinkaya, Gunseli. “World's First 3D-Printed Steel Bridge Unveiled at Dutch Design Week.” Dezeen, Dezeen, 24 Oct. 2018, www.dezeen.com/2018/10/22/worlds-first-3d-printed-steel-bridge-completed-mx3d-technology/.