The world’s first 3D printed stainless steel bridge recently opened in Amsterdam. The bridge is the brainchild of MX3D, a Dutch company that has developed a proprietary software to turn an ordinary welding robot into a high end industrial 3D metal printer.

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0:00 Introduction
0:38 Design process
1:51 3D printing metal
3:09 Sensor network
3:49 Origins of 3d printed metal
4:26 Advantages
5:09 Disadvantages
7:19 Conclusion

Plans for this bridge began 6 years ago, in 2015, when MX3D proposed 3D printing a metal bridge on site. They developed several design concepts, and got the support of Autodesk and the city of Amsterdam. After finding a location in the Red Light district, they scanned the site and created a highly detailed digital site model. The scan helped them develop edesign constraints like dimensions and strength of medieval canal walls, the limits of 3D printed steel, on-site assembly, city regulations, and engineering and practical limitations.

MX3D and Joris Laarman tried to use the same volume optimization approach in the design of the bridge but it failed. So they teamed up with engineers at Arup on a sheet-construction approach.

Stress analysis software generated force lines through the bridge. Since the bridge heads are not aligned, the shape had to be asymmetrical. They had to also scrap the idea of printing it on site because of safety and technical concerns. The eventual design shows off the capabilities of 3D printed metal technology.

They developed a software called Metal XL. They call this printing method robotic wire arc additive manufacturing technology or WAAM. A 6+ axis robot and a MIG/CMT welding machine creates pieces by depositing metal layer by layer. Although this bridge was made of stainless steel, they can also print in carbon steel, duplex steel, aluminum and bronze. Even though the walls of the bridge are thin, the overall shape makes it strong. The bridge measures 41 feet or 12.5 meters and weighs 9,920 pounds or 4,500 kg. The actual printing process took 6 months, and was completed in 2018. When it was ready to be installed, the bridge was cut up into 3 parts and transported to the site on barges. The pieces were lifted by a crane and welded together on site.

Scientists at the Alan Turing Institute, IoT specialists and engineers embedded a sensor network into the bridge and created a “digital twin”.

While the design itself isn’t biomimetic like the Bone Chair, it has a unique futuristic language of its own. It’s a statement, a piece of art, a hint at the future of 3D printed designs. I think that it is so drastically different from the vernacular architecture of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, that it works. I love that they didn’t paint it or powder coat the steel, they left it honest and raw. The team also claims that the bridge is hyper-efficient and uses minimal materials.

Nicolas, who is a part of our YouTube community, recently visited the Netherlands and experienced the 3d printed bridge. He said that the layered print and welding is crude and uneven. It’s not as sleek as it appears to be in photos. He also said that design does not take the directionality of the layering into account in the way a concrete bridge does. The layers look arbitrary which is an excellent observation. Nicolas also said that the curved hand rails are used as a trash can by people passing by. This is why humans can’t have nice things.

Lastly, there’s a significant misalignment between one side of the bridge and the pavement. They tried to fill the gap with brick pavers, but it looks very sloppy. I think we need to understand that this bridge is an experiment. It’s a rough, first iteration in this exciting, new technology. It may be more expensive, and take much longer to produce right now, but it has the potential to change the way we design and build in the future.
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#3dprintedmetal #bridge #robotics #netherlands


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