The world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge, a pedestrian structure located in the city centre of Amsterdam, has opened to the public. The bridge is a result of a multidisciplinary team of experts collaborating on the future design of public spaces.
The Alan Turing Institute’s data-centric engineering (DCE) programme has been integral to the bridge’s development. They have teamed with Dutch scale-up MX3D and other global collaborators to install the bridge over the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal.
The bridge was not only printed by robotic arms, but is also equipped with an innovative sensor network, linked to a ‘digital twin’ computer model that monitors its performance in real-time. Everyone that walks, runs, or cycles over the bridge will generate data, which will help to monitor the bridge’s structure and provide information about how it’s being used.
The bridge has the potential to revolutionise how urban infrastructure is designed, built and maintained. 3D printed steel is a new material, which may have the power to radically change conventional construction and overhaul the building industry.
After extensive pre-installation testing, the bridge team has also created an inbuilt ‘digital twin’ of the physical structure. This means that sensors built into the bridge will constantly be gathering data on strain, displacement, vibration, air quality and temperature. This data will be used to create a digital version, or twin, of the bridge. This digital twin can then predict how the structure will behave as the bridge is used. So, not only can maintenance needs be highlighted at the earliest opportunity, but the digital twin will also help engineers understand how 3D printed steel might be used for larger scale and more complex building projects.
DCE programme director Mark Girolami said, “We are incredibly excited about the 3D printed bridge project. Not only is it a stunning design, but with the sensors inbuilt into the fabric of the bridge it is also pioneering groundbreaking digital twin technologies. It is a significant step towards making huge changes to how we think about and improve the engineered world and our built environment. It is fantastic to see the project coming to life and the public engaging with it.”
The bridge is an international collaborative effort. It was designed and built in the Netherlands by Joris Laarman Labs and 3D printing company MX3D. Researchers at The Alan Turing Institute in the UK undertook the materials testing and are designing the digital twin, incorporating San Francisco company Autodesk’s software.