JORIS LAARMAN'S REVOLUTIONARY 3D-PRINTED AND ROBOT BUILT BRIDGE IS READY
Robots come to finalize the structure of the world's first 3D-printed metal bridge in Amsterdam. Designed by Dutch designer Joris Laarman's lab and devised by his Amsterdam-based robotic manufacturing technology startup MX3D. The stainless steel pedestrian bridge is meant as a metaphor that combines the technology of the future with the old city and crafts - bringing out the best of both worlds, and somewhat paradoxically, allowing to build more organic.
RED LIGHT DISTRICT-
Using specially designed MX3D software, it took six multi-axis industrial robots six months to 'draw' the full span of the bridge from layers of molten steel, inside a former shipbuilding hangar in Amsterdam's NDSM shipyard. Measuring 12.5 meters in length and 6.3m in width, the bridge currently weighs 4,500 kg and uses over 1100km of wire, and is set to be installed on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal, one of the city centre's oldest and most famous canals of Amsterdam, situated in its red light district. Earlier plans to spectacularly print the bridge in situ had to be abandoned as it was "just too dangerous".
The bridge project builds on earlier research by the designer on how to print similar freeform structures in first plastic and later steel
and led to the founding of MX3D a new research and development company, with Tim Geurtjens
Laarman (38) graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven in 2003: One year later he launched the Joris Laarman Lab with his partner Anita Star. His name rose immediately to international fame with the Heatwave, a decorative radiator that can also spread the heat better because of its floral structure. The bridge project builds on earlier research by the designer on how to print similar freeform structures in first plastic and later steel, and led to the founding of MX3D a new research and development company, with Tim Geurtjens.
When first announcing the project in 2015 Laarman said the technology pioneered in the project was first and foremost about ushering 3D printing to a higher leveI and a new era of digital manufacturing.: „Digital fabrication is in its infancy. Everyone is talking about 3D printing but not so much is actually possible yet. We've focused on printing outside the box, literally. Printing with robots means you're not limited any more to the boundaries of the printer. This bridge will show how 3D printing can finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects, while using sustainable materials, to create functional objects with an unprecedented freedom of form. On top of that, we also wanted to combine digital- and local production, the new and the old, in a 'new craft'. The symbolism of a bridge in the old city exemplifies this beautifully, bringing out the best of both worlds.“
Key to the project lies in the development of this software, which will allow MX3D to use the code they are developing for the bridge to build an endless variety of different structures, using the robots. ""The basics of the technology are super simple," says Laarman "We're using an industrial robot that can already be found in assembly lines in the car industry. We have combined this with a welding machine. But the smart part is the software; how we control these machines.. A robot is a very old machine actually. It's made to do one thing over and over again, one movement. But by using smart software we can make it move any way we want, and do something really complex.“
the six-axis robots that MX3D adapted robots can produce much larger structures by moving across them as they print
BIG & STRONG-
Unlike traditional 3D printers, the six-axis robots that MX3D adapted robots can produce much larger structures by moving across them as they print. And are able to rotate their arms along six different planes of movement. They build up structures by depositing small quantities of steel in layers. "You're not limited by size, so we can theoretically print endlessly big," Laarman says, „And we're printing in durable and strong materials, like steel or any other type of metal.“
Last but not least, and something paradoxically, the robots also allow to create more organic shapes and to produce more sustainably. „Almost everything you see around you looks the way it does because of the limits of industrial machines, „ says Laarman, „Our technology allows us to make much more complex or organic shapes, creating a whole new form language. And -since the structure is best built in one piece and in situ- it also promotes local production.“
While the project as originally planned to be finished by 2017, MX3D now aims to have finished the printing, placing the deck and coating the bridge by October 2018 – in time for Dutch Design Week. The bridge is scheduled to be installed in 2019, once the renovation of the canal is complete. But before being installed, the bridge will also be tested on its structural integrity. Together with architecture studio CLS Architetti and researchers from London Imperial College, engineering firm ArupArup, which presented Europe's first 3D-printed one-bedroom house at this year's Milan Design Week, will perform several full load tests in a next phase of the development, while mathematicians from The Alan Turing Institute and engineers work with MX3D to deploy a smart sensor network on the bridge, monitoring its performance during the load tests - information that could also be very useful for future 3D-printed metal bridge designs.
MX3D has already announced it has partnered with Dutch bridge builder Haasnoot Bruggen to bring 3D metal printing to the pedestrian and bicycle bridge market in the Netherlands, after this first try out. And although this first bridge is fairly small, and pedestrian, the challenge is huge. "This bridge is very much a learning process for us,“ says Laarman. „We are trying to test all the facets of the technology to develop the software. But I'm convinced that in the end this will result in a really big library of algorithms and scripts, which in the future we can use for all kinds of geometries. It's just a much more adaptive way of producing things. We can print millions different types of objects with one machine. So what we are doing right now is just the beginning.“
Photography © Joris Laarman Lab/ Thijs Wolzak/Adriaan de Groot/ Video by Anita Star