MX3D installs first stainless steel 3D printed bridge
MX3D kicked off this project in 2015 when it proposed printing a metal bridge with its large-scale, robotic 3D printing technology, illustrating how digital tools can create a new form language for architectural objects.
“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,” said CEO Gijs van der Velden.
The project was brought to life thanks to funding of the Lloyd's Register Foundation and the collaboration with a range of industry leaders including ABB, Air Liquide, ArcelorMittal, Autodesk, Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) and Lenovo, which all have helped MX3D realise its bold, ambitious vision.
This collaborative effort saw the bridge brought to life between 2017-2018, when four robots 3D printed the structure using more than 6,000kgs of stainless steel.
The proprietary MX3D printing technology uses off the shelf welding robots to build up metal objects layer by layer. The MX3D bridge design was created using generative design and topology optimisation techniques. The combination of those technologies allow for a higher form of liberty and a promise of significant material reduction.
Smart MX3D bridge is a ‘living laboratory’
The bridge serves as a living laboratory. Equipped with a state-of-the-art sensor network, the ‘Smart Bridge’ is powering a cutting edge research project. Together with academic and industry researchers, the City of Amsterdam will use the bridge’s data streams to explore the role of IoT systems in the built environment. For instance: whether such systems can anonymously analyse crowd behaviour, to help better understand the impact of tourism in the district. The project also addresses questions about open data, data ethics, and citizen ownership of city analytics.
Smart sensor network feeds ‘digital twin’
Realising this vision required an extended collaboration between MX3D, The Alan Turing Institute (the Turing), Arup, Autodesk, FORCE Technologies, and the University of Twente. Between them, they have spent the last three years creating and installing a sophisticated sensor network, to enable real-time data collection, to represent those data flows in live models, and to create usable analytics on top of that data which feeds into a Digital Twin of the bridge.
The bridge’s sensors collect structural measurements such as strain, rotation, load, displacement, and vibration, and also measure environmental factors such as air quality and temperature.
Together, this data is used to create a ‘digital twin,’ an accurate computer model that represents the physical bridge in real time. The digital twin will help engineers measure the bridge’s health and monitor how it changes over its lifespan. The sensor data will also be used to “teach” the bridge to understand what is happening on it, beginning with the ability to count how many people are crossing it and how quickly.
Autodesk worked closely with the partners of the Data Centric Engineering Programme at the Turing as well as FORCE Technologies and University of Twente to design and install the sensor network.
Even in its prototype form, this network was useful when performing structural testing on the bridge. Load testing and materials testing were both conducted by the Data Centric Engineering team, which proved that the bridge is able to hold at least a 19.5 ton load, well above its ultimate design load.
The UK’s national institute for data science and artificial intelligence (AI), The Turing, began its involvement with the bridge by assembling an interdisciplinary team of data science and AI experts from its Data Centric Engineering Programme. The Turing is hosting the bridge data for the full two year period covered by the bridge’s current operating permit and has conducted a thorough ethics review of the project to ensure that the scientific goals of the project do not compromise the privacy of the public.
Positive governmental role in enabling innovation
As governments worldwide strive to build smarter cities, this valuable research project helps experts improve the design, operation and safety of future 3D printed structures and IoT systems under all conditions.
As a key partner, the City of Amsterdam shows how local governments can act as facilitators in the introduction of new technologies. The support of the city, stadsdeel Centrum and its Chief Technology Office (CTO) CTO office were essential in making this complex project succeed. The project in turn helped MX3D to gain worldwide success with it’s product: a software license that turns a welding robot into a high end 3D metal printer.
The NOW furthermore funded a project called ‘BRIDE’, in which University of Twente, TU Delft, Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute) Amsterdam Institute of Metropolitan Studies and MX3D study the social side of a digital world, like the bridge.
Barriers and unexpected changes
Groundbreaking projects inevitably run into barriers and unexpected changes. The original design concept was changed considerably due to engineering concerns and printing it on site turned out unfeasible due to safety and technical concerns. In March 2017, the printing and assembly of large segments of the bridge began. Final placement had to be postponed nearly 2 years until the renovation of the canal walls was completed and all the formalities were ironed out.
In parallel MX3D engineers have continued working on realizing their vision of robots autonomously 3D-printing infrastructure. A robot was successful in triangulating its position and print while placed on the bridge. Printing bridges without human intervention is not science fiction anymore.
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