The research and development company MX3D, which specializes in cutting-edge robotic 3D printing technology, has announced its plans to 3D-print a steel bridge over a canal in Amsterdam.
The bridge will be made by industrial-grade 6-axis robots capable of printing metal and resin in mid-air, thereby allowing for structures to be built exactly where they are needed.
Armed with welding machines, these robots can print with steel, stainless steel, aluminum, bronze and copper without the need for support-structures. Adding small amounts of molten metal at a time, they print lines in mid-air.
No matter how audacious the plan may sound, it’s not just a high-concept demonstration to impress the public – MX3D has already shown off the system’s ability to 3D-print gravity-defying metal sculptures in 2014 and this time intends to “print” a bridge that will be as strong as any other.
“We thought to ourselves: what is the most iconic thing we could print in public that would show off what our technology is capable of?” said company co-founder Joris Laarman. “This being the Netherlands, we decided a bridge over an old city canal was a pretty good choice. Not only is it good for publicity, but if MX3D can construct a bridge out of thin air, it can construct anything.”
The finished bridge will be around 7.3 metres wide, support normal Amsterdam traffic and feature an intricate design, made possible by the high degree of granular control allowed by the technology.
According to recently published video notes, the robots will begin on one side of the canal and slowly move across the water, creating their own support-rails as they go. The project is expected to take around 2 months’ time.
“What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the “printing outside the box” principle,” said the CTO of MX3D, Tim Geurtjens. “By printing with 6-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens.”
For error control, MX3D decided to team up with the architecture and engineering software company Autodesk, which will help it avoid a vast array of possible glitches that may take place while working outside for months on end.
“Robots tend to assume that the universe is made of absolutes, even though that’s not true,” said Maurice Conti, the head of Autodesk’s Applied Research Lab. “So we need to program them to have real-time feedback loops, and adapt in real-time, without even being told to.”
Even though the task at hand could prove highly complicated, Conti thinks it’s more than worth it:
“Imagine some day in the future, just going somewhere, dropping off a robot, and coming back two months later to have this huge piece of infrastructure there, without any human intervention at all!”
The project is expected to be finished by 2017.
In September, there will be a visitor center where people can follow the progress of the project, and the City of Amsterdam will announce the exact location of the bridge.