Four years ago, the designer Joris Laarman had a crazy idea for a bridge over a canal in Amsterdam. He proposed building the bridge using a robotic arm and 3D printer–a process that seemed as simple as wheeling the printer to the edge of the canal and hitting “print.”
It wasn’t actually that easy, and Laarman and his team have spent years proving the technology behind the idea–founding a company, MX3D, to develop this robot-based additive manufacturing technology (Autodesk is an investor). After moving forward with the printing process last year, the bridge’s long-awaited span is complete. Check it out:
The team’s original estimate that the bridge would take two months to complete turned out to be unfeasible–they also faced “many technical problems” that needed solutions, including problems with the site itself, as Cliff Kuang explained last year:
When Laarman first dreamed up the bridge, it was supported by a lattice of struts that branched like an ice crystal. It was to be installed across a canal near Amsterdam’s historical Red Light district. But the bridge has changed radically, for one simple reason: The city found that the design stressed the walls of the canal, and so had to be reengineered. The bridge that’s being printed now more resembles a typical pedestrian structure, though the surface and form still bend and twist fantastically, in a way that could only be done with 3D printing. And that’s the point: to show all kinds of would-be partners what’s possible.
In the end, the span took six months of nonstop work by four robotic arms with printer heads, and the printing had to be done in a workshop rather than on location. The robots used 4.5 tons of stainless steel and a whopping 684 miles of metal wire, which were melted to create the 41-foot-long steel structure.
The company says that the next step is to test its load capacity before installing it at the canal–though, with almost five tons of steel, it looks strong enough to support an entire circus parade to me.