Dutch 3D printing company MX3D has put up on display the first ever additively manufactured steel bridge. The 40-foot long structure was manufactured with the help of an industrial robot and gas metal arc welding.
The world’s first 3D printed steel bridge took three years to complete, although most of that time was spent on research, rather than actual additive manufacturing. The bridge is designed with the help of Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher CAD software, capable of topological optimization. This helped to reduce the mass of the all-metal bridge to approximately four tons and produced an unusual looking, yet attractive structure.
The role of the 3D printer was played by a six-axis industrial robot, armed with a MIG welding apparatus. The entire structure is composed of carefully welded steel wire. The machine’s output is rated at 1-3 kilograms per hour. An important thing to consider is the cost of consumables: one kilogram of steel wire costs only about five euros, whereas a kilo of metal powder used by selective laser melting and sintering systems can easily cost ten times as much.
The bridge is designed by MX3D’s longtime collaborator Joris Laarman and his team at the Joris Laarman Lab, but the company also credits a long list of other participants: Arup is the lead structural engineer, ArcelorMittal provided the metallurgical expertise, Autodesk assisted with their knowledge on digital production tools, Heijmans helped with construction expertise, Lenovo supported the project with computational hardware, ABB is the robotics specialist, Air Liquide and Oerlikon shared welding techniques, Plymovent provided air filtration systems to hazardous fumes, while the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) and Delft University of Technology partook in research.
The bridge itself is ready, but the reconstruction of the canal in Amsterdam, where it is to be installed, is still ongoing. Meanwhile the structure is displayed at Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, where it will remain through October 28.
Since this is a pilot project, the structure is fitted with a variety of sensors to help collect various data in real-time, including structural integrity, the intensity of pedestrian traffic, vibrations, load dispersion and weather conditions. This data should help to ensure public safety as well as further optimize future designs. The bridge is expected to be installed over Oudezijds Achterburgwal sometime next year.