The beautiful, iconic and historic city of Amsterdam, in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, has seen war, strife and prosperity throughout the years, and more than 1200 bridges built over its 65 miles of canals, linking around 90 islands together to create the current metropolis.
However, the bridges, some of which date back to the 1600s, are about to be supplemented by a very modern addition, created in perhaps the most contemporary way possible. Dutch start-up 3D printing company, MX3D, along with several partners that include Heijmans, Lenovo and STV, is all set to start construction on a robot built, elaborately designed, steel pedestrian bridge using 3D printers.
MX3D have undertaken this futuristic task in an effort to support the economics of their country’s burgeoning 3D printing industry, as well as to showcase their ‘Printing Outside the Box’ 3D printing methods. In further partnership with Joris Laarman, who supplied the designs for the bridge, and Autodesk, using software so new it has been researched and developed for this project specifically.
The ‘Printing Outside the Box’ method is a major factor in what makes this build so groundbreaking. While 3D printing has long been limited to creating parts or components in a square box, to be used elsewhere, MX3D – thanks to some of their other partners, ABB robotics – are building the bridge in place, over the canal, using special 6-axis, industrial robots, with at least one beginning on each bank in order to meet in the middle in mid air. These advanced mechanoids are equipped with 3D printing hardware, enabling them to construct metals, plastics and combinations of materials in any format, before fitting each building component in place, as they venture further out over the water.
The exact location of the proposed bridge is yet to be revealed, but after work has begun, in September 2015, a public visitor centre will be opened to present a more detailed look at the project. On his involvement, artist, entrepreneur and designer Joris Laarman stated that he was confident about the future of local, digital production as a craft. He also said that the bridge should, ‘… show how 3D printing finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects and sustainable materials, while allowing unprecedented freedom of form.’ He then 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 best of both worlds.’