MX3D Bridge

MX3D Bridge

Location
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 114, 1012 DS Amsterdam, Netherlands | View Map
Project Year
2021
Category
Bridges
Stories By
MX3D

ARUP
Thea van den Heuvel

MX3D Bridge

MX3D as Engineers

MX3D 3D printed a fully functional stainless steel bridge to cross one of the oldest and most famous canals in the center of Amsterdam, the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. We equip typical industrial robots with purpose-built tools and develop the software to control them. The unique approach allows us to 3D print strong, complex and graceful structures out of metal. The goal of the MX3D Bridge project is to showcase the potential applications of our multi-axis 3D printing technology.

The MX3D Bridge is designed by Joris Laarman Lab, Arup is the lead structural engineer, ArcelorMittal provides the metallurgical expertise, Autodesk assists with their knowledge on digital production tools, Heijmans is our construction expert, Lenovo supports us with computational hardware, ABB is the robotics specialist, Air Liquide & Oerlikon know everything about welding and lastly, Plymovent protects the air our employees breath whilst AMS and TU Delft do invaluable research. Gemeente Amsterdam is the first customer of our collaborative bridge building department.

Amsterdam’s robot printed footbridge welds steelwork with state-of-the-art technology

ARUP as Engineers

Large-scale 3D printing and digital design could forever alter the shape of the built environment around us. Amsterdam’s robot printed steel bridge, set to be installed in the city’s Red Light District, is a 12-metre long digital design masterpiece with curved, raw steel balustrades that belie its high-tech origins.

The award-winning design, developed by Dutch technology start-up MX3D together with designers Joris Laarman Lab and a host of collaborators, offers a glimpse into how computational design together with state-of-the-art robotic welding technology could shape our cities in the future.

Now fully 3D printed in stainless steel, the bridge is the culmination of a long-running dream that welds traditional steelwork and advanced digital modelling into an inspired, structurally sound piece of public urban infrastructure. Computational design and 3D printing come together to streamline both the design and production process, allowing designers to explore greater form freedom and shrink delivery timelines.

With Arup involved as lead structural engineer, MX3D created intelligent software that transforms welding machines into 3-D printing robots to produce a fully functional steel bridge. Advanced parametric design modelling – a tool for designers exploring new shapes using code - enabled Arup engineers to significantly fast-track the initial design process. The software can produce several iterations in quick succession until arriving at an optimal shape that offers the best solution against a set of benchmarks.

Departing from a monolithic, U-shape bridge design, the design team ran extensive iterations to progress swiftly through several stages of design until delivering the final, more organic, S-shaped bridge - marrying structural integrity and functionality without compromising on aesthetic relevance.

Designing by experimenting: digitally-driven design process tests new boundaries

Transcending its public function as a footbridge across the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, MX3D serves as a proof point of how digital design tools and 3D printing may forever alter the built environment. As a design object for public use, Joris Laarman wanted MX3D to be a revolutionary piece of art, fully exploring the rational design freedom allowed by 3D printing for large-scale infrastructure.

Parametric design modelling was a perfect fit for this boundary-pushing design process. The team worked with Grasshopper and Karamba, a tool for designers exploring new shapes using generative algorithms (graphical algorithm software) for 3D modelling tool Rhino, to refine the design. The programme works by producing successive design iterations under a given set of parameters, moving from an initial test form towards the optimal or final shape. Additional software can assign accurate material properties to the model, enabling extensive testing including for instance load path analysis, even before the final bridge is physically built. The team ran digital simulations of the bridge, removing excess material by mixing structural calculations with geometric manipulation, teaching the algorithm to recognise which parts of the bridge are less crucial

Designing beyond the codified materials was made possible thanks to repeated testing: Lab material test results, structural element tests results and full-scale final test results would inform engineers working out the design. The testing sequence feed into the structural assessment and allowed the engineers to check the safety and serviceability of the bridge.

3D printing comes of age: printing large-scale urban objects
After arriving at a final design, the team moved into the production phase. Understanding the performance of this material was one of the first steps of the process: the material and mechanical properties of this self-supporting 3D printing steel differ from that of regular steel. To address this, the team ran several tests including load viability to ensure that the structural behaviour of the bridge complies with code safety requirements and confirm the performance of this new 3D printing steel.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a novel method of manufacturing parts directly from a digital model by building layer after layer of a material. This new, high-precision technique provides opportunities and architectural freedom to designers and engineers alike, while potentially reducing the amount of materials used and wasted. Printing began in March 2017 and the completed bridge was put on display at Dutch Design Week by October 2018. 

Digital Twin: data sensors to track performance

The bridge will be equipped with a sensor network, allowing the partners to gather data which will be used to build a digital twin to monitor the health of the bridge. The digital twin will track performance under different environmental conditions and under changing dynamic loads, including tracking pedestrian use, checking corrosion or studying deflection and support forces, all of which will enable the further development of a data-centric design language. 

Collaborative partnership: key to innovation in the built environment
To bring the project to life, MX3D set up an innovative working collaboration with a large group of partners marrying expertise across disciplines, including software, hardware, construction and welding. These include Autodesk, ArcelorMittal, Arup, Force Technology, Imperial College London, Air Liquide, ABB Robotics, Heijmans, Lenovo and Lloyds Register Foundation.

Among the public partners are TU Delft, AMS Institute (Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Studies) and the Municipality of Amsterdam. On the sponsoring side are STV, Oerlikon, FARO and Plymovent, while the Visitor Centre is supported by the VSB Fund. 

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