The fabrication of a range of infrastructure, including three-dimensional (3D) printing, continues to evolve as construction technology advances. 3D printing allows you to build free-form buildings in a single piece, reducing resource consumption.
In Amsterdam, a robot revealed the world’s first 3D-printed steel structure, a “living laboratory” bridge. For the next two years, this pedestrian bridge with smart sensors will replace the previous bridge, which is undergoing external rehabilitation.
The four-year-in-the-making 3D-printed footbridge is the result of a unique collaboration between MX3D, software company Autodesk, chief engineer Arup, steel giant ArcelorMittal, the City of Amsterdam, and the University of Twente.
MX3D made this idea possible by converting welding robots into industrial 3D printers using sophisticated software. The bridge is made entirely of stainless steel and weighs 6,000 kilograms. Imperial College London, with the assistance of the University of Twente, will thoroughly test the footbridge before it is installed.
Researchers will measure, monitor, and assess the functioning of the new 12-meter-long structure as it handles pedestrian traffic using its huge network of placed sensors. Researchers and engineers will be able to use the data to track the bridge’s ‘health’ in real time, see how it evolves over time, and learn how the public interacts with 3D-printed infrastructure.
The sensor data will be entered into a ‘digital twin’ of the bridge – a computerized duplicate of the bridge that will imitate the original bridge with increasing accuracy in real-time as sensor data is received. The physical bridge’s performance and behavior will be compared to the twin, which will help answer questions about 3D-printed steel’s long-term behavior, as well as its use in real-world contexts and in future unique building projects.
The data collected from the 3D-printed footbridge will be made available to other scholars across the world who want to collaborate with the Turing team on data analysis. The researchers will begin gathering data in real-time to assess how the bridge performs now that it has been unveiled.