The World’s Largest 3D-Printed Steel Bridge Is Built by Robots in 6 Months

The long awaited first of its kind project celebrates another landmark as the bridge's robotically 3-D printed span is completed.

This week, the Alan Turing Institute-Lloyd’s Register Foundation program in data-centric engineering and Amsterdam-based startup MX3D revealed to the public the completed span of the world’s largest 3D printed metal structure, a 12 meter-long stainless steel bridge. The structure composed of 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) of stainless steel and 1,100 km (684 miles) of wire took 6 months to print.

The bridge is set to be placed over the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal in Amsterdam, enabling pedestrians and cyclists to cross over the water. 

Bridge to be equipped with performance sensors

The project is the first construction of its kind and measures are being taken to evaluate how the structure performs. According to the Imperial College London Steel Structures Research Group, the group in charge of the structural testing of the project, once completed, the bridge will be fitted with sensors that will report data such as strain, displacement and vibration, as well as environmental factors.

The World’s Largest 3D-Printed Steel Bridge Is Built by Robots in 6 Months
Source: MX3D

The acquired information will be fed into a digital copy of the bridge designed to act as a prototype for future projects. It will also enable researchers to adapt and revise the current model to make it safer for its users and ensure its long-term health and viability.

The World’s Largest 3D-Printed Steel Bridge Is Built by Robots in 6 Months
Source: MX3D

So far, testing has proven positive for the researchers and engineers. Commenting on the bridge’s reveal, Professor Leroy Gardner, from the Steel Structures Research Group, said:

“In the absence of structural design provisions for 3D printed steel, physical testing is an important part of ensuring the safety of the structure. The recent testing confirmed not only that the bridge could withstand the applied load, but also that the numerical simulation of the bridge developed by the Steel Structures Research Group provided an accurate representation of the behavior observed in practice.”

The World’s Largest 3D-Printed Steel Bridge Is Built by Robots in 6 Months
Source: MX3D

More testing still to be performed

Testing on the bridge is set to continue as Group Leader in the data-centric engineering program Dr. Craig Buchanan said the team would return to Amsterdam to prove “that the bridge can resist the full design loading it is anticipated to experience when opened to the public in 2019.”

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Meanwhile, Professor Mark Girolami, Director of the Turing-Lloyd’s Register Foundation Program, said the next step in the project would be developing the long-discussed sensor network which will “enable engineers to measure the bridge’s health in real time and monitor how it changes over its lifespan.”

The construction of the bridge is supported by several other partners such as the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction at Cambridge, Autodesk, The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, Lloyd’s Register Foundation, Joris Laarman Lab, Arup, ArcelorMittal, Heijmans and ABB. 

Project reveals promising new applications

The project has many varied and exciting possible future applications. The technology has been said to have the potential to be useful in everything from robotics to producing structures for the moon’s colonization.

The World’s Largest 3D-Printed Steel Bridge Is Built by Robots in 6 Months
Source: MX3D

Speaking on the technology’s versatility, Gijs van der Velden, COO of MX3D, has said: “The 3D structure being built by MX3D offers engineers the freedom of working with an entirely new material. The digital twin of the bridge will see the development of a new design language and we hope it will be a significant step in the introduction of this exciting new form of structure into the construction market.”

The bridge is expected to be installed before the end of 2019.