Robots printing bridges

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Producing the world’s first 3D-printed bridge with robots “is just the beginning” – Joris Laarman

The technology that startup MX3D is developing to 3D print a bridge in Amsterdam could be used to produce “endless” different structures, says Dutch designer Joris Laarman in this exclusive movie.

MX3D is a new research and development company co-founded by Laarman and Tim Geurtjens, which plans to use robots to produce the world’s first functional 3D-printed steel bridge over an Amsterdam canal by 2017.

“The basics of the technology is pretty simple,” Laarman explains in the movie, which was filmed at MX3D’s workshop in Amsterdam. “We’re using an industrial robot that is usually used in assembly lines in the car industry. We have combined this with a welding machine and our own software to have it 3D print in metal.”

The six-axis robots that MX3D are adapting are able to rotate their arms along six different planes of movement. They build up structures by depositing small quantities of steel in layers.

Unlike traditional 3D printers, robots can produce much larger structures by moving across them as they print.

“You’re not limited by size, so we can theoretically print endlessly big,” Laarman says.

The steel footbridge will span eight metres. MX3D originally intended to print the bridge in situ, but had to abandon that plan over health and safety concerns. Laarman and his team will now reconstruct a section of the canal in their workshop to demonstrate that it could be done on site.

The bridge will be printed in one piece, with the robots printing a load-bearing structure to support their own weight as they work.

“The bridge is going to be fairly small – it’s a pedestrian bridge,” Laarman says. “It’s still a huge challenge, because we want to print it in one go. We want the robots to print their own support structure as they move over the water.”

Read more on Dezeen:

Buildings Printed by Robots – the Future of Architecture

3D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way humans manufacture and build things, from the small scale to the very large. By combining robots with 3D printing, KUKA partner Branch Technology, working with the architects at Gould Turner Group, is fundamentally shifting the way architects and designers approach not only the building of a final structure, but also the way that structure is designed from beginning to end.

It’s exciting stuff and sure to set your brain thinking about all the possibilities.

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