Dutch company MX3D and Imperial College London engineers have built the world’s first 3D printed steel footbridge which also doubles up as a living laboratory.
The bridge – recently unveiled by Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, with the help of a robot – has been installed over the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.
The Imperial team will make use of a vast network of installed sensors to measure, monitor and analyse the performance of the novel 12-meter-long structure as it handles pedestrian traffic.
This data will come in handy when measuring the bridge’s ‘health’ in real time, monitoring how it changes over its lifespan, and understanding how the public interacts with 3D printed infrastructure.
The data will be simultaneously fed into a ‘digital twin’ of the bridge – a computerized version of the structure which will imitate the physical bridge with growing accuracy in real time as sensor data come in.
Once this is done, the performance and behavior of the physical bridge will then be tested against the twin.
This should help answer questions about the long-term behavior of 3D printed steel, as well as its use in real world settings and in future novel construction projects.
“3D printing presents tremendous opportunities to the construction industry, enabling far greater freedom in terms of material properties and shapes,” notes Imperial professor Leroy Gardner.
“This freedom also brings a range of challenges and will require structural engineers to think in new ways.”
“A 3D printed metal structure large and strong enough to handle pedestrian traffic has never been constructed before.”
“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.”
The testing work was led by Gardner and co-contributor Dr Craig Buchanan, supported by a team of undergraduate and postgraduate students, PhD candidates, post-doctoral researchers and laboratory technicians.
To get from the conceptual stage to the installed footbridge, the Imperial’s Steel Structures Research Group conducted the underpinning research and validation.
This included 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 behavior over its life.
Image and content: Imperial College London