The World’s First 3D-Printed Metal Bridge Opens in Amsterdam
The world’s first 3D-printed metal bridge opened to the public on 15 July 2021. The futuristic design of the smart bridge adds a modernist flair to one of the oldest canals in Amsterdam’s Red Light District. (Head image credit: Adriaan de Groot)
The challenge of a 3D-printed metal bridge
Metal 3D printing has gained massive interest in recent years. It enables manufacturers to advance more quickly from the design to the final product and facilitates a more flexible and complex design approach. The reduction of material wastage also makes 3D metal printing more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than traditional methods. However, most 3D metal printers can only print parts up to a size of 25cm3. Until recently, 3D metal printing was mostly used to create small components for the aerospace and automotive sectors and implants in the medical sector.
MX3D, an Amsterdam-based metal 3D printing firm, created innovative technology to 3D-print large metal objects. Unlike 3D-printed concrete projects, which can be extruded out of nozzles in layers, 3D metal printing involves welding layers of metal together. MX3D developed an innovative method to bring the large 3D printed metal bridge into reality. The company developed their own software MetalXL, which transforms an off-the-shelf welding robot and a welding machine into a 3D metal printer for large metal objects.
“When we started with the concept the bridge was more than 100 times bigger than any part ever 3D printed in metal, and now it’s finished I still have good reasons to believe the bridge will remain the largest metal printed object for years to come”, said Gijs van der Velden, CEO and Co-Founder MX3D in a statement.
It took four robots six months using more than 6,000 kgs of stainless steel to 3D-print the 12-meter-long bridge. The world’s largest metal 3D-printed object is the result of successful collaboration from various industry leaders including ABB, Air Liquide, ArcelorMittal, Autodesk, AMS Institute, and Lenovo.
Smart sensors feed ‘digital twin’
The bridge is equipped with dozens of sensors that collect real-time data, including structural measurements such as strain, rotation, load, displacement, and vibration, as well as environmental factors such as air quality and temperature. The sensory network then integrates the data into the physical bridge’s Digital Twin, an accurate computer model that represents its nominal state in real-time.
Engineers will use the digital model to study the bridge’s properties and will use machine learning to find deviations from the ideal-type state in the data that might indicate when maintenance or modification is needed. Constant data monitoring will help to prevent bridge failures due to corrosion, overload, lack of maintenance, or inspection.
A live view of the real-time data collected and visualized by the bridge’s sophisticated sensor network is available online.
A research project at Amsterdam’s Red Light District
The city of Amsterdam has always been open to diverse and innovative ideas. In 2017, Amsterdam was crowned the European Capital of Innovation. The municipal authorities have been a key partner and supporter of the 3D-printed metal bridge. In return, the sensor network in the smart MX3D bridge serves as a living laboratory for the city’s cutting-edge research project.
Data collected from the bridge’s sensors will be used to explore the role of the internet of things (IoT) and connected systems in the local environment. Researchers hope that the smart bridge can help them to anonymously analyze crowd behavior and better understand the impact of tourism in the Red Light District.
“The Bridge is only the beginning for our technology, by now MX3D has introduced its metal printing tool on the industrial market, and with this tool already many companies have started printing like us. I am looking forward to all positive impact and new ideas our client will realize,” – Gijs van der Velden, CEO and Co-Founder MX3D
Queen Máxima of the Netherlands officially opened the world’s first 3D-printed metal bridge to the public on 15 July 2021. The landscape of 3D metal printing is entering a new territory of many innovative applications.