Robots to 3D-print Amsterdam canal bridge

A Dutch start-up has unveiled plans to build the world’s first 3D-printed bridge across an Amsterdam canal, shaking up traditional construction methods.

The torch-wielding robot welders “can draw steel structures in 3D to print a (pedestrian) bridge over water in the centre of Amsterdam,” said engineering company MX3D. Key here is the technology that makes it possible for the robots to draw in mid-air, with robotic arm printers ‘walking’ across the canal by sliding along the bridge edges.

The multi-axis industrial robots will heat the metal to 1,500°C to join the structure together drop-by-drop using bespoke Autodesk software, which will be a research project in itself.

“What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘Printing Outside the box’ principle,” said Tim Geurtjens, CTO MX3D. “By printing with 6-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens.”

“We now use our own intelligent software to operate these machines so they can print very complex metal shapes which can differ each time,” said the bridge’s designer Joris Laarman.

It is hoped that the bridge will advance the techniques used on construction sites, also removing the need for scaffolding as the robot arms use the very structure they print as support. However, the designers are in talks with Amsterdam City Council to decide where exactly the project might be completed by mid-2017.

“I strongly believe in the future of digital manufacturing and local production,” said Laarman. “It’s a new form of craftsmanship.”

“This bridge can show how 3D printing has finally entered the world of large-scale functional objects and sustainable materials,” he said.

The bridge is a joint effort of various other companies including construction company Heijmans, the Joris Laarman Lab, software company Autodesk, ABB Robotics, and the Amsterdam City Council.

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