Robots to build canal bridge using 3D printing

Robots to build canal bridge using 3D printing
Watch robots 3D print a bridge. MX3D is to 3D print a steel bridge. Really. The bridge will be designed by Joris Laarman. That process using new Autodesk software will be a research project in itself. Image Source: MX3D

The latest sign robots are taking over the world: They’re building a bridge over an Amsterdam canal.

That’s the plan at least, for an ambitious project that will use industrial robots to print a metal bridge over water by “drawing” steel structures in 3D.

Dutch robotic printing firm MX3D is leading the gravity-defying build.

Here’s how it will work: Engineers start with a piece of metal attached to a canal bank. The robots begin at one side of the canal, adding small amounts of molten metal to create lines in midair. The lines intersect to create a self-supporting structure — in this case, a bridge.

Robots to build canal bridge using 3D printing
The bridge will sync with the technical development and take into account the location. The project is a collaboration between MX3D, design software company Autodesk, construction company Heijmans and many others. Image Source: MX3D

“This bridge will show how 3D printing finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects,” said designer Joris Laarman.

It’s early days for the robot bridge, and the team hope to begin construction by 2017. The exact location will be revealed later in the year.

Robots to build canal bridge using 3D printing
The Team. The MX3D Bridge project would not exist without the support of partners, Autodesk, Heijmans, Air Liquide sponsors, ABB robotics, STV, Delcam, Within, Lenovo, public partners TU Delft, AMS, Amsterdam City Council. Image Source: MX3D

3D printing continues to gain ground, for large and small objects.

The technology is transforming lengthy prototyping processes in industries ranging from aerospace and consumer electronics, to medicine and cosmetics. Technology consultants Lux Research forecast the 3D printing industry will be worth $12 billion by 2025.

Robots to build canal bridge using 3D printing
Visual of Canal. Joris Laarman, designer: “I strongly believe in the future of digital production and local production, in “the new craft”. This bridge will show how 3D printing finally enters the world of large-scale, functional objects and sustainable materials while allowing unprecedented freedom of form. The symbolism of the bridge is a beautiful metaphor to connect the technology of the future with the old city, in a way that brings out the best of both worlds.”

The machines have gone mainstream in recent years. Amazon (AMZN) has a 3D printing store, while Staples (SPLS) sells MakerBot products as well as the Cube from 3D Systems.

But owning your own 3D machine is pretty pricey – the MakerBot Replicator Mini sells for $1,375.