The future of 3D printing

A team in the Netherlands are heralding the future of 3D printing, using robotic welding arms to print a steel bridge

There was a time when the world of 3D printing was constrained by the small, square range of the printing nozzle. Fixed to a cumbersome machine, the nozzle could only print items in a limited space, slowly building shapes up layer by layer.

Today, the team at Danish company MX3D are changing that perception, showcasing technology that can allow materials to be printed with a free-moving arm. This means that more complex, larger structures can be printed than ever before, and key to this new wave of construction is steel.

How it works

“By printing with 6-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens. Printing a functional, life-sized bridge is of course the ideal way to demonstrate the endless possibilities of this technique,” says Tim Geurtjens, CTO MX3D.

The bridge project, masterminded by designers Joris Laarman Lab, is designed to showcase what is possible with 3D printed steel. The MX3D robot works by adding small amounts of molten metal at a time. This enables it to effectively print in mid-air, and the materials the team work with need to be able to stand without a support structure. Steel is moldable, it’s versatile, it’s sustainable and, above all, it’s strong enough and light enough to support its own weight.

 

And it’s cost effective too. As this technique is not bound by additive layers, it is more cost effective and scalable than current 3D printing methods and different software is simply installed to create different types of line: vertical, horizontal and spiraling.

The Amsterdam bridge

The showcase bridge, a fully-functional intricate steel bridge over the waters of the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, should be ready to put in place in 2017.

“The bridge project unites digital technology, robotics and traditional industrial production,” said Tim Geurtjens, CTO MX3D.

MX3D equips industrial multi-axis robots with 3D tools and develops the software to control them. They describe their research as groundbreaking, and the 3D bridge aims to show exactly what can be achieved on a large-scale with sustainable resources.

“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,” adds Joris Laarman. “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.”

 

Images: MX3D