The First 3D Printed Bridge

When it comes to 3D design and printing, the thoughts tend to be that it is geared towards small objects bound by the size of the printer that is printing the object. While it is true that there are some projects that have the need for desktop and industrial 3D Printers, there are some projects, like a bridge, that are too big to print in one sitting by even the biggest 3D Printers. MX3D have decided to tackle this challenge head on and are constructing the world’s first 3D Printed bridge located in Amsterdam.

Construction Considerations

Bridge construction must meet all the Civil Engineering design standards and requirements. As such, the weight displacement and the design of the bridge had to be made to not only have the aesthetical demands met, but also the safety and functionality adhered to as well. Firstly, the 3D Print required the printed rods to be wide enough as not to break. At first, the company stated that the steel represented small worms and that there was not any form to the concept. Secondly, the company stated that the design put too much strain on the printer (one blew up) and automatic mechanical welder. So, consideration had to be given to the methodology of the build.

The result was that the “worms” were made a bit thicker and thereby were capable of receiving a higher weight strain. MX3D then intertwined the cords in complex curves so that the aesthetics would be present, but the bridge would also remain strong as the weight would shift from one band to another.

Not your Standard 3D Printer

Considering the main design of the standard Commercial 3D Printer, you will see that there is a definitive difference between this project and other inventive projects. Mainly, you see that the printer is not a box design. Instead, MX3D decided to use a quad robotic printing technique, meaning four printers working simultaneously, to make the bridge. The robots, although they are technically 3D Printers, are more comparable to the industrial sci-fi mechanics seen in Charlie and the Chocolate factory or Ghost in a Shell

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Comparing the two images, you will find that there are a great many similarities to the Sci-fi robotics and the real world robotics of MX3D. This just goes to prove, once again that science fiction and innovation are neighbors, often sharing ideas.

ghost-in-the-shell

 

 

The MX3D bridge’s printers have been described in several ways (futuristic, industrial, custom made, but not as the standard printer), especially since they are not the standard 3D Printer. The quad configuration works independently on the bridge, supplying itself with the raw materials needed for the steel print & the robots move along as the bridge is constructed, meeting at the apex of the bridge. This is revolutionary on two fronts. Firstly, the 3D Printer is working much like its own A.I. force, supplying and building the bridge at its own pace, even though there is programing involved. Secondly, the 3D Printer breaks the boundaries of in-house printing by making a mobile solution to the 3D Printing conundrum. Sure, prior to this there were crane sized Industrial 3D Printers as well as applications to manage the printing process. However, not till now has the possibility of a mobile and construction level 3D Printer been introduced.

What does the 3D Printed Bridge mean for the 3D Printing World?

While there is nothing fundamentally exciting about a bridge over a canal, the structure has sparked discussion, not because it is a bridge, but rather on what this could mean for the 3D Printing industry as a whole. The main benefit is that, if the bridge is completed according to schedule without any issues, the local government could start to use Steel 3D Printing as a standard for Civil Engineering projects. As with most things, it could be estimated that if the world sees that it is faster and more cost effective to 3D Print a bridge, street light, railroad track, etc. , that the governments will implement 3D Printing methodologies into its infrastructure projects, be it 3D Printing on site or 3D Printing off site and then delivered.

Think of this. Should the construction industry take on the potential building of main structures using these “floating 3D Printers”, countries, which would otherwise not have access to premium construction technology, could see industrial improvements rather quickly. For example, if combined with drone technology, third world countries could have water canals 3D Printed, bridges to go over the canals, and then the drones to deliver supplies to remote locations, helping to purify the water.

A Profitable Change

Perhaps the greatest impact that the MX3D bridge in Amsterdam will have upon the industry is that it will spark more innovation and creativity in the field. According to CNN, big brands, such as Amazon, have seen the potential in 3D Printing and thus have a store dedicated additive manufacturing, justified by a substantial demand for the product. Estimations for the 3D Printing industry for 2025 are near $12 billion. Of course, if the UK or the US begins to use Construction 3D Printing as the norm, you can expect that this estimation will be but a shadow of the actual forecast.

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A picture of the 3D Printed bridge under construction.

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