World’s First 3D-Printed Steel Bridge

Jul 21, 2021 0 comments

A 12-meter long steel pedestrian bridge opened last week in Amsterdam. Unlike other steel bridges around the world, this was not forged in a furnace. It was 3D-printed.

The first of its kind, the bridge was fabricated using stainless steel rods that was welded by robotic arms at the workshop of the Dutch technology company called MX3D, in collaboration with engineering firm Arup. It was designed by Dutch studio Joris Laarman Lab. The structure weighs 6 tons and needed six months to be 3D-printed by robots, before it was craned into position over the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, one of the city’s oldest canals in Amsterdam's Red Light District.

Aside from serving an essential function, i.e. provide a means to cross the canal, the bridge is a living laboratory, with hidden sensors that collect real-time data about the overpass’ performance. Every time someone walks, runs or cycles over the bridge, the sensors will generate data, which researchers at Imperial College London will use to monitor the bridge’s structure and health. The sensors will measure strain, displacement, vibration, air quality and temperature.

This data will be used to create the digital twin of the bridge—a computerized version which will imitate the physical bridge— which can then predict how the structure will behave as the bridge is used. This will allow maintenance needs to be highlighted at the earliest opportunity, and also help engineers understand how 3D printed steel might be used for larger scale and more complex building projects.

“A 3D-printed metal structure large and strong enough to handle pedestrian traffic has never been constructed before. We have tested and simulated the structure and its components throughout the printing process and upon its completion, and it’s fantastic to see it finally open to the public,” says Leroy Gardner, a structural engineer at Imperial London College.

“3D printing presents tremendous opportunities to the construction industry, enabling far greater freedom in terms of material properties and shapes,” Gardner added. “This freedom also brings a range of challenges and will require structural engineers to think in new ways.”

Tim Geurtjens, chief technology officer of MX3D, told AP that the project’s success has exciting implications for the future of architecture.

“If you want to have a really highly decorated bridge or really aesthetic bridge, suddenly it becomes a good option to print it,” he said. “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.”

Despite the innovation, the bridge is not meant to be permanent. It will remain in place for only two years while the bridge that previously spanned the canal is renovated.



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