Dutch Firm Plans to 3D Print a Steel Bridge in Amsterdam

by Abdul Rehman on July 9, 2015

3D Printed Bridge AmsterdamSince its introduction in 1985, 3D printing has largely been considered a technology suitable for printing small objects like Plastic Toys and Spare Parts. In some ways this view is justified.

While there are some printers capable of printing huge objects, such as the amazing House 3D Printer in China about which we told you a year ago, the majority of the printers available today in the market are no more than a foot or two in size and can’t produce objects larger than their own size.

A Dutch company plans to catapult 3D printing beyond the world of small objects by its 3D Metal Printer which can print “out of thin air” and intends to demonstrate the capabilities of its printer by building a bridge in the middle of Amsterdam.

Earlier this month, Dutch startup company, MX3D announced its plans to build a 3D Printed Bridge in the middle of Amsterdam. According to the company, the bridge will be made from steel and will be strong enough for public to use as a normal bridge. MX3D is collaborating with software company Autodesk, a construction company Heijmans and several other organizations for the construction of the bridge.

The company is currently in negotiations with Amsterdam’s city council about the exact location of the bridge. The project is set to begin in September 2015 and will finish by the middle of 2017. The chief designer of the bridge is Joris Laarman who has worked with MX3D in the past to develop the material used in the company’s robotic 3D printer. Explaining the symbolic importance of the bridge, Laarman says:

“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.”

You’re probably wondering how MX3D will be able to build a bridge when no 3D printer in existence is larger than a bridge. The printer will even have to print against gravity at times! All this has been made possible by the revolutionary 3D printer created by MX3D. The printer basically consists of a robotic arm that extrudes a metal powder and heats it at the same time. The metallic powder is specially made for the printer and can be cured within seconds.

3D Printed Steel BridgeBecause of this, the powder coming out of the nozzle of the robotic arm melts and fuses with the rest of the printed structure immediately, allowing the printer to bypass the effect of gravity.

Thus, MX3D’s printer can be thought of as a combination of a 3D printer and a welding machine in one robotic arm!

This combination is controlled by the capable 3D printing software Autodesk that ensures that the actual printing goes exactly according to the computer design.

Because it is not confined in a box, the robotic arm is able to print objects much larger than itself, which is simply not possible with the conventional “box” 3D printers. The robotic arm is, thus, said to print “outside the box” or “out of thin air”. Another feature of MX3D’s robotic printer is that it doesn’t require any Support Material. Support materials and structures are one of the primary considerations when working with conventional FFF 3D printers.

The support materials are then removed by hand or dissolved by special chemicals. The robotic arm in MX3D’s printer uses the already printed structure to support and move itself which enables it to work without any support material saving both time and material. The robotic arm is almost completely self-sufficient in building a 3D object and requires little human intervention other than the initial design. This means that it is safer. Construction accidents can be minimized to a large degree by using MX3D’s printer. Tim Geurtjens, CTO MX3D, explains the company’s technology in the following words:

“What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘Printing Outside the box’ principle. By printing with 6-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens.”

The project is aptly explained in a video on MX3D’s YouTube channel:

The MX3D’s robotic printer is not without limitations however. The fact that it can only print metal and that it is probably slower than simply using pre-manufactured steel rods while constructing buildings, limits its immediate use in the construction industry. It will probably find use in high-risk construction projects such as in building skyscrapers where the robotic printer would be able to save human workers from accidents.

The long-term prospects of MX3D’s printers are enormous. Once these printers are able to print different types of materials at a faster pace, they may revolutionize construction completely, while Helping the Environment too. Robotic 3D printers may then take over all other methods of construction.

Bridge Building 3D PrinterArchitects would be delighted at the opportunity to design entire buildings on computers and then have them printed exactly as designed down to the minute details.

Huge buildings may be built in matters of days by several of these printers. Consumer versions of these printers may allow people to print their own homes economically and homeless people throughout the world may finally get homes to live in!

Such printers would also be invaluable in war-zones where temporary buildings made by these printers could provide shelter and lodging for soldiers in foreign lands. Thus, as recognized by 3D software giant Autodesk’s Director Strategic Innovation Maurice Conti, MX3D’s invention is a total game changer:

“The MX3D platform is a potential game changer. 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.”

In conclusion, MX3D’s innovative machine has the attention of the entire technology world. Building the bridge in the middle of Amsterdam is its first test. If it is successful, we would surely see a lot more of this machine in the future.

What’re your thoughts about MX3D’s printer? Do you think it would really be able to successfully print the bridge in Amsterdam, or might it be one of the most spectacular Failed 3D Prints we have ever seen? Do you know of any other equally innovative 3D printing projects? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments.

Also please Like and Share this article with your friends, then download your FREE eBook: Beginners Guide to 3D Printing at Home if you’d like to try 3D printing for yourself.

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