Gizmag has covered a wealth of remarkable architectural projects involving 3D printing – including a backyard castle, a number of small homes and a room with 260 million surfaces – but a project in Amsterdam, Netherlands, is set to be particularly impressive. 3D printing R&D firm MX3D is planning to print a bridge across a canal. It is hoped that the robots used will print their own supports and gradually move across the water, creating the bridge as they go.
The project is a collaboration with, among others, design software company Autodesk and construction firm Heijmans and will incorporate robotics, software engineering, craftsmanship and design. Designer Joris Laarman, who has previously worked with MX3D printing free-standing 3D sculptures, is using Autodesk software to design what is described as "an ornate metal bridge."
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"I strongly believe in the future of digital production and local production, in the new craft," says Laarman. "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."
MX3D says the project is made feasible by its robotic 3D printing technology that effectively makes it possible to draw in mid-air. The multi-axis industrial robots to be used can print metals, plastics and combinations of materials.
"What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the 'printing outside the box' principle," explains 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 the bridge project, the robots will be printing in steel. They will use specially-designed arms that heat up the metal to 1,500° C (2,732° F) before welding the structure. This approach means structures can be created that are strong, durable and complex.
What's more, it is hoped that the entire process will take place on-site. Assuming that is the case, the robots will begin creating the structure on one side of the water and will create rail-supports as they go. They will then be able to gradually slide forward on the supports, literally creating the bridge upon which they are crossing the canal (as demonstrated in the visualization below).
A visitor center where people can follow the progress of the robots is expected to be opened to the public in September, although the exact location of the bridge is yet to be confirmed.
The video below provides an introduction to the project.