Amsterdam unveils 3D printed steel bridge

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A 3D printed steel pedestrian bridge, claimed to be the first of its kind in the world, has been unveiled in Amsterdam’s Red Light Dstrict.

Crossing the Dutch capital’s Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, the 12-metre-long structure has been four years in the making and was developed by engineers at Imperial College London in partnership with Dutch company MX3D. To get from the conceptual stage to the installed footbridge, the Steel Structures group at Imperial conducted the underpinning research and validation, including testing destructive forces on printed elements, advanced digital twin computer simulations, non-destructive real world testing on the footbridge and the development of an advanced sensor network to monitor the bridge’s behaviour over its life.

“A 3D-printed metal structure large and strong enough to handle pedestrian traffic has never been constructed before,” said Imperial co-contributor Professor Leroy Gardner, from the university’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “We have tested and simulated the structure and its components throughout the printing process and upon its completion, and it’s fantastic to see it finally open to the public.

“3D printing presents tremendous opportunities to the construction industry, enabling far greater freedom in terms of material properties and shapes. This freedom also brings a range of challenges and will require structural engineers to think in new ways.”

According to Imperial, the bridge will act as a ‘living laboratory’ in Amsterdam’s city centre. Using its vast network of installed sensors, the Steel Structures team will measure, monitor and analyse the performance of the novel structure as it handles pedestrian traffic. Data captured from the bridge will be made available to other researchers worldwide who are interested in contributing to the study.

“For over four years we have been working from the micrometre scale, studying the printed microstructure up to the metre scale, with load testing on the completed bridge,” said co-contributor Dr Craig Buchanan, also from Imperial’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “This challenging work has been carried out in our testing laboratories at Imperial, and during the construction process on site in Amsterdam and Enschede, the Netherlands, on the actual printed bridge.

“We look forward to continuing this work as the project transitions from underpinning research to investigating the long-term behaviour of metal printed structures. Research into this new technology for the construction industry has huge potential for the future, in terms of aesthetics and highly optimised and efficient design, with reduced material usage. It has been fascinating and we are delighted that the structure is now ready to be used.”