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World’s first 3D-printed metal bridge opened for pedestrians

  • Published at 06:12 pm July 22nd, 2021
Queen Maxima over the 3D printed footoverbridge in Amsterdam
Queen Máxima of The Netherlands walks across the 3D-printed steel overbridge, the first of its kind in the world, in Amsterdam's Red Light District on Thursday, July 15, 2021 Collected

Amsterdam’s Red Light District boasts installing the footbridge, a living research lab too, that the world has never seen before

With the city of Amsterdam witnessing the installation of a 3D-printed steel footbridge, first of its kind in the world, scientists and researchers are feeling excited over the prospect of 3D print technology economizing future constructions bigtime.

The Netherland’s Queen Máxima and a robot co-opened the novel 12-metre structure on July 15 for pedestrian traffic on Oudezijds Achterburgwal Canal in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

The Alan Turing Institute, Imperial College London and Dutch company MX3D jointly worked on this project, unleashing enormous potentials of 3D print technology.

An Imperial College’s statement said the bridge was also a “living laboratory” where, using its vast network of installed sensors, Imperial College London researchers will measure, monitor and analyze the performance of the structure as it handles pedestrian traffic.

The data collected will enable researchers and engineers to measure the bridge’s health in real time, monitor how it changes over its lifespan and understand how the public interacts with 3D-printed infrastructure.

The data from the sensors will be put into a “digital twin” of the bridge, a computerized version which will imitate the physical bridge with growing accuracy in real time as sensor data come in.

The performance and behaviour of the physical bridge will be tested against the twin, which will help answer questions about the long-term behaviour of 3D-printed steel, as well as its use in real world settings and in future novel construction projects.

Unleashing of an enormous potential

Amsterdam-based daily newspaper – The Het Parool – quoted MX3D as claiming that by the application of 3D-print technology, large metal objects can be printed with material savings of up to 80%.

Het Parool, being published since 1941, reports that after Queen Máxima pressed a button, a robotic arm with scissors cut a ribbon to officially open the 6,000kg bridge on July 15. “The bridge in the Red Light District has been looking forward to for a long time, which will save residents a considerable detour,” states the newspaper.

Digital simulation of the world's first ever 3D-printed steel footoverbridge | Collected

It says, MX3D supplies the technology used in making the bridge to industries such as shipbuilding and the automotive industry. A number of robot arms with metal printers, complete with software and sensors are at work at MX3D. The company's 10 metal printers are also delivering new constructions, such as a 30-metre railing for a bridge to Oostenburg, it further adds.

Imperial co-contributor Prof Leroy Gardner of the department of civil and environmental engineering said: “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.”

Prof Gardner’s colleague from the same department, Dr Craig Buchanan, said: “We look forward to continuing this work as the project transitions from underpinning research to investigating the long-term behaviour of metal printed structures. Research into this new technology for the construction industry has huge potential for the future, in terms of aesthetics and highly optimized and efficient design, with reduced material usage.”

The work led by Prof Gardner and Dr Buchanan, with support from a team of undergraduate and postgraduate students, PhD candidates, post-doctoral researchers and laboratory technicians, was predominantly funded by The Alan Turing Institute, with additional funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation.

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

The Imperial researchers are part of a wider team of structural engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists and statisticians working on The Alan Turing Institute-Lloyd’s Register Foundation program in data-centric engineering. The program is led by Prof Mark Girolami at The Alan Turing Institute.

Prof Girolami said: “3D printing is poised to become a major technology in engineering, and we need to develop appropriate approaches for testing and monitoring to realize its full potential. When we couple 3D printing with digital twin technology, we can then accelerate the infrastructure design process, ensuring that we design optimal and efficient structures with respect to environmental impact, architectural freedom and manufacturing costs.”

What is 3D print technology?

The 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the construction of a three-dimensional object from a CAD (computer-aided design) model or a digital 3D model. The term “3D printing” can refer to a variety of processes in which material is deposited, joined or solidified under computer control to create a three-dimensional object, with material being added together (such as plastics, liquids or powder grains being fused together), typically layer by layer.

In the 1980s, 3D printing techniques were considered suitable only for the production of functional or aesthetic prototypes, and a more appropriate term for it at the time was rapid prototyping. Now, the precision, repeatability, and material range of 3D printing have increased to the point that some 3D printing processes are considered viable as an industrial-production technology. One of the key advantages of 3D printing is the ability to produce very complex shapes or geometries that would be otherwise impossible to construct by hand, including hollow parts or parts with internal truss structures to reduce weight.

About Imperial College London

Imperial College London is a globally reputed public research university in London, UK. Founded in 1907 by a Royal Charter, the Imperial College London focuses exclusively on science, technology, medicine and business.

Imperial has an international community, with more than 59% of students from outside the UK and 140 countries represented on campus.

About The Alan Turning Institute

The Alan Turing Institute is the UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence. Headquartered in the British Library, London, the institute is named after Alan Turing, whose pioneering work in theoretical and applied mathematics, engineering and computing are considered to be the key disciplines comprising the fields of data science and artificial intelligence.

Five founding universities – Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, UCL and Warwick – and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council created The Alan Turing Institute in 2015. Eight new universities – Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Queen Mary University of London, Birmingham, Exeter, Bristol, and Southampton – joined the Institute in 2018.

About MX3D

With over 10,000 kg of metal 3D printed objects and over 40 man-years of experience since 2014, MX3D is a Dutch company that brought large-scale robotic wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) and its market to life and made enabling 3D metal printing more flexible, faster and cheaper.

Now, MX3D is ready to transform the market further by launching the first dedicated robotic WAAM software enabling companies, engineers and designers to print end-to-end large-scale 3D metal objects in-house.
Earlier this year, a fund from the Doen Foundation and a sustainability fund from the province of North Holland invested 2.25 million euros in the company.