There are 3D printers that can print metals, and 3D printers that can “draw” shapes in the air. But there aren’t many 3D printers capable of doing this:
Dutch 3D printing company MX3D, which has developed robots that can print plastic and metal in all kinds of shapes, is going to use a robotic 3D printer to build a bridge in Amsterdam.
“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,” MX3D designer Joris Laarman said in a news release.
Most 3D printers, including the ones that can print metals, tend to be confined to a box. But the MX3D-Metal isn’t confined to printing something smaller than itself. It’s essentially an industrial robotic arm with six points of articulation that can be programmed to weld any shape in space. According to Fast Company, the University of Delft developed a new composite for the robot that’s as strong as steel, and can be extruded in drops by a 3D printer nozzle.
While it’s a lot harder to build an actual bridge on a canal than in a lab, Laarman told Fast Company the bridge will only take about two months to be built, and should be complete by 2017.
The project is being sponsored by Autodesk, the design software company. Autodesk’s in-house futurist, Jordan Brandt, recently told Quartz that robots that can, in spider-like fashion, build three-dimensional objects on their own could inspire the next industrial revolution. It comes as no surprise, then, that Laarman’s designs for the bridge (the final design hasn’t been released yet) look a lot like spider webs.
The project is set to kick off publicly in September, when a visitor center will open to anyone who wants to check out the robot’s process. MX3D told Quartz that it’s working with the city of Amsterdam to choose a location for the bridge, but the exact spot hasn’t been announced yet.