Long-awaited 3D printed stainless steel bridge opens in Amsterdam
A 12-meter, 3D-printed pedestrian bridge designed by Joris Laarman and built by Dutch robotics company MX3D opened in Amsterdam six years after the project began.
The bridge, which was made from stainless steel rods by six-axis robotic arms fitted with welding equipment, spans the Oudezijds Achterburgwal in Amsterdam’s red light district.
The structure used 4,500 kilograms of stainless steel, which was 3D printed by robots in a factory over a six-month period before being placed over the canal this year.
Its curved S-shaped shape and balustrades with lattice perforations were designed using parametric modeling software.
The team behind the bridge claimed the technique showed how 3D printing technology can lead to more efficient structures that use less material.
“This robotic technology is finally making it possible to 3D print larger optimized designs in metal,” said MX3D co-founder Gijs van der Velden.
“This results in significant weight reduction and reduced impact for parts manufactured in the tooling, oil and gas, and construction industries.”
The technique can lead to more durable structures, the team said. “The industry faces a huge challenge to become carbon neutral in 2050,” said Arup structural engineer Stijn Joosten.
“By stepping up our game and the drive to make a change as designers and engineers, we can bring the innovation needed to make a difference in the built environment of tomorrow.”
However, architect Philip Oldfield calculated that the stainless steel used in the structure has 27.7 tonnes of carbon incorporated.
“Stainless steel has an embedded carbon of 6.15 kgCO2 / kg,” tweeted Oldfield, who heads the school of art, design and architecture at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “This bridge then has a #carbon carbon of at least 27.7 tonnes of CO2 to extend over a few meters.”
The Alan Turing Institute and Arup equipped the structure with a network of sensors that allows the bridge to collect data and build a digital twin to monitor its performance and health.
The digital twin will monitor corrosion, load changes, environmental conditions and pedestrian usage as part of efforts to deepen data-driven design.
Laarman came up with the idea for the bridge after combining robotic arms with welding machines to create a machine capable of printing furniture. “By adding small amounts of molten metal at a time, we are able to print lines in the air,” Laarman explained at the time.
The welding machine then formed the basis of MX3D, which Laarman co-founded to explore the potential for printing objects on a larger scale.
The bridge has undergone several iterations since the project was launched in 2015, with opening initially scheduled for 2017.
The original plan was to print the structure through the canal in situ, with robots working from both sides welding the bridge under them until they meet in the middle.
The latest iteration saw the bridge built in two parts in an offsite facility. Its main span was completed in April 2018 and the bridge printed in October of the same year.
The structure has been reinforced to be more in line with council regulations and to protect the structure against possible boat collisions.
Although it is believed to be the first 3D printed stainless steel bridge, bridges have been 3D printed from other materials before. In 2017, construction company BAM Infra built what it claims to be the world’s first 3D printed concrete bridge.
The photograph is by Théa van den Heuvel unless otherwise stated.