​Dutch start-up will 3D print steel bridge

Amsterdam-based start-up MX3D has, in partnership with TU Delft, developed robotic technology that aims to 3D-print a steel bridge on location by 2017.

Designer of the bridge, Joris Laarman, believes in the future of both digital technology and traditional production as part of the new craft. He thinks that printing an intricate, ornate metal bridge at a highly visible location will show people what robots, engineers, craftsmen and designers can do when they work together. "The symbolism of the bridge", said Laarman, "is a beautiful metaphor to connect the technology of the future with the old city, in a way that brings out the best of both worlds."

Building on initial research by Laarman, MX3D has developed a technology that, according to its CTO, Tim Geurtjens, works on the Printing Outside the Box principle. "By printing with 6-axis industrial robots", said Geurtjens, "we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens." As a result, the MX3D robot can print with metals, such as steel, stainless steel, aluminium, bronze or copper without the need for support structures. By adding small amounts of molten metal at a time, the robot can print lines in mid-air

MX3D is also developing software, parameters and printing strategies for the different kinds of 3D printable lines. For instance, vertical, horizontal or spiralling lines require different settings, such as pulse time, pause-time, layer height or tool orientation. The company claims this technology makes it possible to create 3D objects in almost any size and shape. Further, they claim, as it is more cost effective and scalable than current 3D printing methods, it also offers "creative robotic manufacturing solutions for art and industry," according to Laarman.

The goal is to have robots print the bridge on site at a location in Amsterdam that has yet to be revealed. And as of September 2015, there will be a visitors centre at the construction site, where people will be able to watch the bridge printing in progress. According to the company, "The bridge will show how 3D printing has finally entered the world of large-scale, functional objects while allowing unprecedented freedom of form."

TU Delft‘s Jouke Verlinden, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Industrial Design will be the project's principal investigator. "The motto of TU Delft", said Verlinden, "is 'Challenge the Future’ and MX3D is doing exactly that: exploring aesthetics and engineering for human-centred design."