Gravity-defying 3D printer to print bridge over water in Amsterdam

A 3D printer that can print "cables" of material in any orientation is set to 3D-print a steel bridge over a canal in Amsterdam.

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Artist's render of how the bridge construction will proceed. MX3D

The 3D-printed home has been accomplished -- and apparently the next step is something a little more structurally challenging. A 3D-printing company based in Amsterdam has developed a revolutionary, multi-axis robotic 3D printer that can "draw" structures in the air -- and it's planning to build a bridge over a canal in the heart of the city.

"We research and develop groundbreaking, cost-effective robotic technology with which we can 3D-print beautiful, functional objects in almost any form," wrote MX3D on the project Web page. "The ultimate test? Printing an intricate, ornate metal bridge for a special location to show what our robots and software, engineers, craftsmen and designers can do."

The bridge will be designed by artist and designer Joris Laarman, who helped develop the Mataerial 3D printer -- or MX3D-Resin -- and the MX3D-Metal, a robotic 3D printer that combined the MX3D-Resin with a welder to be able to "draw" fast-setting metal structures.

This is the technique that will be used to print the bridge out of steel. Small increments of molten metal are welded to the existing structure, creating lines of steel. By printing multiple lines, the printer will be able to create a strong, complex structure that spans the canal -- printing its own supports along the way so that it can operate autonomously.

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Sketches of bridge designs. MX3D

"I strongly believe in the future of digital production and local production, in 'the new craft'," Laarman said.

"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 team has perfected and tested the robotic printer, creating a metal sculpture of intersecting lines. For the bridge, the team envisions two robots working together in tandem, starting on one bank and working towards the other; in an animation of the process, four robots work together, two on each side of the canal, working to meet in the middle -- a technique that would undoubtedly place less stress on the bridge.

MX3D has also shown several designs, indicating that the bridge will be a cantilevered arch, although the final design is yet to be revealed. That, along with the exact location of the bridge, will be revealed "soon," MX3D said.

Construction on the bridge is scheduled to begin in September.

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