Can 3D printing technology build a functional steel bridge? This startup is ready to find out
3D printing is a technology that is pushing the boundaries in a number of fields now. Architects and engineers are already starting to delve into possibilities of 3D printing as a valuable tool in the realm of construction, experimenting with everything from 3D printed walls to decorative embellishments. But just how strong and functional can 3D printing be in the construction world? Amsterdam-based 3D printing research and development startup MX3D are attempting to find out, announcing an ambitious project attempting build a fully 3D printed steel bridge across an Amsterdam canal.
MX3D has partnered with California-based software giant and AutoCAD creator Autodesk, along with several other supporters including construction firm Heijmans, on this project. According to reports, MX3D is using Autodesk software to design the metal bridge that will then be built over an Amsterdam bridge using innovative MX3D robotics to draw and weld each component of the bridge onsite from molten steel in mid-air.
“What distinguishes our technology from traditional 3D printing methods is that we work according to the ‘Printing Outside the box’ principle,” said Tim Geurtjens, CTO at MX3D, explaining the project. “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.”
A company like MX3D takes on considerable risk in attempting a project of this capacity. It is an ambitious project, and there is always the possibility that it will not work—that measurements may be off, or that the steel drawn by MX3D’s robotics will not be able to support its own weight as the project is built. But there is just as much possibility of great reward if the project is successful. A fully functional, well-engineered and stable large-scale production like a bridge could help uplift 3D printing out of its novelty status and further in the construction world as a useful and versatile tool.
“I strongly believe in the future of digital production and local production, in ‘the new craft,’” added designer Joris Laarman in MX3D’s page dedicated to the project. “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. 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.”
The bridge project is expected to commence shortly, with completion projected for 2017. Check out a video of the idea behind the project here:
217,000 extra workers needed to meet COVID-19 recovery
As the construction industry’s recovery progresses, the Construction Industry Training Board’s (CITB) Construction Skills Network (CSN) forecasts have led the organisation to believe the industry will reach 2019 levels of output in 2022.
The CSN says there will be an increase in the number of construction workers in “most English regions” by 2025, with demands forecasted at a 1.7% rise for the East Midlands, and a 1.4% rise for the West Midlands.
Scotland and Wales are also predicted to see a surge in demand for construction workers with a total increase of 1.4% and 0.7% respectively. The North East is the only region to see a slight decline in workforce demand at -0.1%.
Wood and interior fit-out trades among the most desirable during COVID-19
According to CSN’s forecast, the trades that are the most wanted are those of wood and interior fit-outs, with both requiring around 5,500 workers per year. Other in-demand trades include technical staff and other construction professionals, requiring 5,150 workers each year, construction managers at 3,600, and the electrical installation trade, which requires 3,400 staff per year.
There is also expected to be demand for 7,850 non-construction, office-based professionals and technical and IT support staff each year. Steve Radley, Policy Director at CITB, said: “It’s great to see construction coming back so strongly and creating lots of job opportunities.
“We need to adopt new approaches to meet these growing skills needs and deliver these quickly. We are working closely with the government and FE to build better bridges between FE and work and make apprenticeships more flexible. We are also making significant investments in supporting work experience that make it easier for employers to bring in new blood.
“We must also make sure that we invest in the skills that will drive change and meet new and growing needs such as Net Zero emissions and Building Safety. We will be announcing plans soon to tackle specific skills and occupations such as leadership and management, digital skills, and skills related to energy efficiency”, he said.