Dutch Startup All Set to 3D-Print Metal Bridges with Robots

By | June 17, 2015


Amsterdam based startup, MX3D has announced plans to build the world’s first 3D-printed bridge across a canal in the city, a technique that could shape the future of the construction. The startup boasts the tagline ‘printing outside the box’  on this homepage for its bridge project.

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Joris Laarman is the main designer of this 3D print bridge. Also, he is the mastermind behind the MX3D’s support-free metal 3D printing technology, in collaboration with Autodesk and construction company Heijmans.

Just like other 3D printers, the technology behind this 3D printing without the print bed is that it makes use of the multi-axis industrial robots equipped with 3D printing technology and software that allows to print with the blend of metals, plastics and various other materials to create complex and durable structures. The multi-axis 3D printing technique works by 3D printing metal that melts and then solidifies with a second giving it a shape.



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“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,” said Larman. He also added, “The symbolism of the bridge is a beautiful metaphor to connect the technology of the future with the old city, in a way that brings out the nest of both worlds.”



Printing of this bridge will begin on one side of the water and rail supports will be used to construct the bridge so it joins the other side. The 3D printing robots would be printing intricate structures mid-air over the city’s canal with no support underneath. Each robot will be printing its own support along the way, providing its path and allowing it to work autonomously.

The startup’s chief technology officer Tim Geurtjens said, “What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘Printing Outside the box’ principle. By printing the 6-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens. Printing a functional, life-size bridge is of course the ideal way to showcase the endless possibilities of this technique.”

The concept has already been proven by Laarman and MX3D in an exhibit of 3D-printed metal sculptures at Friedman Benda Gallery in New York City last June. However, the startup is not free from challenges. Issues like errors inherent to 3D printing such as misplaced layers. The partnership with Autodesk is expected to provide solutions to the problem.



“Robots tend to assume that universe is made of absolutes, even though that’s not true,” said Maurice Conti, head of Autodesk’s applied research lab. He also added, “So we need to program them to have a real-time feedback loops and adapt in real-time, without even being told so.” But Laaren is quite optimistic about this project considering the potential of this technology.

It is highly hoped that the bridge will make a huge leap in the construction industry and would simplify the complicated tasks like those involving risky and dangerous tasks such as on something on high buildings. The talks are on regarding the where the bridge can be built, said Charlene Verweij, the spokesperson of Amsterdam city council.