Back in 2015, the Internet media all found the story of MX3D at the same time. The Dutch 3D-printing technology had announced its plans to build a bridge across a canal in Amsterdam—using robots that “draw” the bridge in mid-air as they go. If you’re a skeptic, you probably thought this project would never actually come to fruition.
The latest news from MX3D has the project set to start in early 2017.
As usual, the actual project is a little different from what the headlines would have you believe. When Jeff Yoder from MetalMiner spoke to MX3D founder Gijs van der Velden at Autodesk University in November, he got the scoop. Van der Velden explained that the robots would be welding together individual parts that had been fabricated offsite at MX3D’s printing facility.
If the project is starting to sound a lot like a lot of other construction projects, where parts are trucked in and assembled on site, there’s still an important twist to keep in mind.
The highest quality 3D-printing technologies are limited in the size of the objects they can generate (larger printers exist, but the quality of their products is often very poor). You can’t in other words, print anything with a volume larger than the printer itself. One solution is to print your object to unfold to a larger size once its complete. Or, unless you 3D print parts to be assembled onsite, as MX3D is doing.
In an older story from Yoder at Metal Miner, he quotes Tim Geurtjens, CTO of MX3D on this point:
What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘Printing Outside the box’ principle. By printing with 6-axis industrial robots, we are no longer limited to a square box in which everything happens. Printing a functional, life-size bridge is of course the ideal way to showcase the endless possibilities of this technique.
Even though it might not be quite as fantastical as we were hoping, it sounds like the idea has progressed from an imaginative idea to a real, workable plan. We can see this bridge in Amsterdam as a proof of concept, and maybe a legitimately new way to build. That is, if it works.