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These Robots are Going to 3D Print a Steel Bridge

Let’s face it: 3D printing has completely changed the way we build things in the world and beyond. From household appliances to actual houses, 3D printers are making things we never thought possible. And now, new robotic 3D printers are going to test the limits of real world engineering in a big way.

A research and development startup company in Amsterdam called MX3D is set to build an entire steel bridge in midair! No kidding. Check out the YouTube video from their website (above) to see their 3D printing robots building a pedestrian bridge across one of Amsterdam’s canals. The location of the bridge will be announced soon and construction is set to commence in 2017.

“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,” designer Joris Laarman says on their company’s website. “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.”

According to IFLScience, the 3D printers themselves are actually versatile six-axis robotic arms. They will ‘draw’ steel structures in 3D, starting from one side of the canal and building across until it reaches the other end. Originally, they started out as “worm-like blobs,” says the MX3D engineers, and quite a few things went wrong along the way. “A welding machine exploded, nozzles got stuck and the robot got destroyed,” says one engineer.

But eventually, after “endless testing,” the MX3D engineering team was able draw complex sculptures in mid-air and then speed up the process. They’ve completely overcome the shape and size restrictions of conventional 3D printing thanks to this process. Pretty soon, industrial sized 3D printers might be replacing the iconic yellow bulldozers at construction sites!

“What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘printing outside the box’ principle,” says Tim Geurtjens, chief technology officer at MX3D. “By printing with six-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.”

What’s next for 3D Printers? Skyscrapers? Planes? Maybe even a space craft to take astronauts to Mars? We’re excited to hear what will happen next.

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