What do you get when you combine MX3D, the young firm working on multi-axis robotic metal 3D printing systems, and Amsterdam, the city that inspired consumer 3D printing and the 3D Printed Canal House? With some help from Autodesk and Heijmans, the Dutch construction company the developed the smart highway concept, the result is a 3D printed metal bridge over canal waters.
Jurre Vand der Ven, Infra Innovation Manager at Heijmans, explained the reasoning behind the partnership: “Heijmans realizes things must change. We are perfectly compatible with MX3D because we share the same outlook and will be able to build it together. We are able to offer knowledge and know what the market wants. They are involved in other types of production and want to scale up from furniture to a bridge. We will be testing for the first two years, but want to effectively start printing the bridge in year three.”
Heijmans goal is to create an automatic construction site. “Robots, which were previously only suitable for serial production, are now able to do a great deal more thanks to today’s ‘computing power’ and the user-friendliness of software,” explained Jan van de Ven, Manager Business Development at Infra. “On-demand is quickly increasing in popularity in all sectors. In addition, there is increasing demand for special shapes – and everything has to be as cheap as possible. 3D printing is the culmination of all these requirements. And this is something we need to react to.”
This automatic construction site is a concept where all parts of the construction process are coordinated, which results in minimal energy consumption and significant waste reduction. Heijman’s 3D Construction Information Models include all the technical specifications in the 3D drawing, which is designed parametrically so that, if something is changed in a particular area, the consequences will be automatically implemented in the rest of the design. The only way to bring a parametric design to physical life is through digitally controlled additive manufacturing or, in other words, 3D printing.
The MX3D-resin printer developed last year evolved into a new robot which, together with an advanced welding machine, is able to print with metals, such as steel, stainless steel, aluminum, bronze or copper, without the need for support-structures. By adding small amounts of molten metal at a time, the machine is able to print lines in mid air.
In the recent past, the 3D printing of large structures has been viewed as an evolution of 3D printing on very small scales. Since one probable direction that extrusion based 3D printing is going to take is that of multi-axis robots collaborating together, it seems likely to me that, until we find a way to reduce the size of robotic arms and lower their costs, large scale 3D printed structures are going to return the favor and lead in the next wave of innovation. This is definitely a bridge I’d like to buy.