Plans for Amsterdam’s New Pedestrian Steel Bridge Call for 3D Printing, Robot Welders

Using robots that can “draw” steel structures in 3D, Dutch technology firm MX3D is planning to 3D “print” a steel bridge over one of Amsterdam’s famous canals in the center of the Dutch Capital. MX3D researches and develops robotic 3D printing delivery technology as well as projects such as the pedestrian bridge. The robots creating the will actually be large welder robots usually seen in factories rather than construction sites.

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The project is a collaboration between MX3D, design software company Autodesk, construction company Heijmans and many others. Designing and “printing” the intricate, ornate metal bridge is a test for the robots, software engineers, craftsmen and designers working on it, including designer Joris Laarman Lab.

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The planned steel pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam will be built by robot “welders” who 3D print the bridge from each side and meet in the middle. Image courtesy of Joris Laarman for MX3D.

“I strongly believe in the future of digital production and local production, in ‘the new craft,'” said Joris Laarman, principal of the Joris Laarman Lab. “This bridge will show how 3D printing finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects and sustainable materials while allowing unprecedented freedom of form. The symbolism of the bridge is a beautiful metaphor to connect the technology of the future with the old city, in a way that brings out the best of both worlds.”

Bridge Welding Robots

MX3D will equip its multi-axis industrial robots with 3D printing hardware that can print metals, plastics and combinations of materials in virtually any form. The system is controlled by software developed by MX3D with support of new-generation tools from Autodesk, such as Autodesk Dynamo, an open-source design tool that can create algorithms to automate the creation of plans for complex geometric form such as those used in the Amsterdam bridge.

Utilizing a process known as digital digital laser sintering, Amsterdam’s new pedestrian bridge will actually be welded in place in the field by large robots and not printed in a factory. Image courtesy of MX3D.

From large construction to small parts, the manufacturing techniques MX3D uses enables printing of strong, complex structures made of durable material, in this case ornate steel. It is more cost-effective and scalable than other 3D printing methods for projects such as the pedestrian bridge.

Construction Potential

“What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘Printing Outside the box’ principle,” said Tim Geurtjens, CTO of MX3D. “By printing with 6-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.”

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MX3D welder/sinterer/printer robot. Image courtesy of MX3D/Adriaan de Groot.

The project achieves one long-term goal of 3D printing supporters in that it delivers a project outside of the traditional confines of the technology, small parts created in a small printer in a manufacturing environment. This means possible on-site use by construction companies and more accurate quantities of welding/sintering material for metals buyers.

Of course, many more projects such as this one would be needed to prove the technology can work with modern construction methods.

“The MX3D platform is a potential game changer,” said Maurice Conti, Director Strategic Innovation at Autodesk. “Breaking free of the traditional limitations of additive manufacturing — small size prints and poor material performance — this technology opens up possibilities for architectural-scale, relatively low-cost, metal structures that are as complex as the designer’s imagination.”

Which Amsterdam canal the bridge will be built to span has not yet been announced but a visitor center accompanying the project is planned to open in September and construction and “printing” is expected to begin around the same time.

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