The first ever self-assembling bridge, 3D-printed by automated robot arms

A Dutch company, MX3D, announced their plans to 3D-print a bridge. The structure will be welded drop-by-drop by robotic arms which will build the bridge in situ from one bank of the river to the other.

Computer image of the robot arms ‘drawing’ a steel bridge (credit: Joris Laarman/AFP/Getty)

Computer image of the robot arms ‘drawing’ a steel bridge (credit: Joris Laarman/AFP/Getty)

The concept is straightforward. Unmanned, automated robotic arm printers will proceed across the canal as they build the bridge structure which, in turn, will become the support itself for the sliding robots. “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” – artist Joris Laarman, who will design the bridge, commented.

The printers consist of specially-designed robotic arms which heats the metal up to 1,500 degrees Celsius to weld the structure drop-by-drop, following the computer programmed design of the bridge. “We now use our own intelligent software to operate these machines so they can print very complex metal shapes which can differ each time,” Laarman said about the project which also involves the Heijmans construction company and Autodesk software.

At the moment, the robotic arms have been used to print small metal structures, but the bridge will be the first ever large-scale demonstration of the technology. The technique has the potential for becoming a standard for future construction sites which will no longer need for scaffolding, as the robot arms use the very structure they print as support.

Negotiations between the company, MX3D, and the Amsterdam city council, which support the project, have now started to decide a possible site for the construction. Works are scheduled to begin in September this year and will be completed by mid-2017. “We are still in negotiations as to where exactly the bridge will be built,” Amsterdam city council spokeswoman Charlene Verweij said.

“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 concluded.

A video explaining the project can be found here, while a short with the visualization of the bridge-3D-printing concept can be found here.

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Carlo Bradac

Carlo Bradac

Dr Carlo Bradac is a Research Fellow at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He studied physics and engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan (Italy) where he achieved his Bachelor of Science (2004) and Master of Science (2006) in Engineering for Physics and Mathematics. During his employment experience, he worked as Application Engineer and Process Automation & Control Engineer. In 2012 he completed his PhD in Physics at Macquarie University, Sydney (Australia). He worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Sydney University and Macquarie University, before moving to UTS upon receiving the Chancellor Postdoctoral Research and DECRA Fellowships.

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