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Head image credit: Adriaan de Groot
On the 15th July 2021, the worlds first metal 3D printed bridge designed by Joris Laarman opened to the public. Installed over the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal in Amsterdam, Netherlands this 12 metre-long structure sits in one of the oldest districts of the city.
The team behind building this engineering marvel is MX3D, who are specialists in Metal 3D Printing and have developed an intelligent and easy-to-use new technology called W.A.A.M (Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing). This innovative Additive Manufacturing process is an agile version of D.E.D (Direct Energy Deposition) modelling as it uses a 6+ axis robot arm and a M.I.G / C.M.T welding machine to build pre-determined geometry by depositing metal layer by layer.
Media credit: Dezeen
This process is ideal for medium to large scale engineering applications for both ferrous (Carbon Steel, Stainless Steel and Duplex Steel) and non-ferrous alloys (e.g., Aluminium, Bronze, etc). However, there are questions surrounding the feasibility of this new manufacturing process due to the steel’s material properties, it’s inherent variability and a guarantee for safety standards.
In collaboration with the Alan Turing Institute data-central engineering programme and other global collaborators, the project produced not only an aesthetically pleasing design but also an intelligent structure equipped with a sensor network designed and installed by Arup. This structure will stand as a living laboratory, generating constant data that will inform the development of a digital twin of the bridge to measure and analyse the performance of the structure including strain, displacement, vibration data and environmental factors such as air quality and temperature.
Image credit: Alan Turing Institute
One of the many objectives of this project to gain as much data as possible, constantly feeding into the digital twin model. As time goes on this digital mathematical model will grow in accuracy as it imitates the real bridge and will provide valuable insights for the design and verification of future 3D printed structures.
Image credit: Adriaan de Groot
Mark Girolami at the University of Cambridge, who is working on the digital model with a team at the Alan Turing Institute in London, says that investigations into bridge failures often reveal deterioration that was missed. Constant data feedback may have been able to prevent these failures by providing an early warning, he says.
Girolami says that early indications for the strength of 3D-printed steel are positive. “One of the things that we found is that the strength characteristics are dependent on the orientation of the printing. But what was in some sense surprising was that the baseline strength was what you would expect of just rolled steel, and it actually increased in some directions.”
The bridge designed using Autodesk 3D parametric CAD software has exceeded its designer’s expectations and load tests showed that the bridge was capable to hold a 19.5 tonne load. These experimental tests were crucial in demonstrating the structures feasibility to secure a permit from the City of Amsterdam.
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