3D-Printed Smart Bridge Leads MX3D to the Construction Industry’s Future
Technology Editor Bill Wong talks to MX3D’s CEO and Co-Founder Gijs van der Velden about the company’s new 3D-printed smart bridge.
What have you printed with your 3D printer? MX3D built a steel bridge (see figure). Not a model, but a real bridge for real people.
To find out more on MX3D and its technology, I spoke with CEO and Co-Founder Gijs van der Velden about the firm’s new 3D-printed smart bridge.
MX3D is known primarily for its 3D printing of the first-ever, fully-functional steel bridge. Tell us more about the company and your work on this.
MX3D is an Amsterdam-based startup at the forefront of bringing design and construction from the past into the future. We’re known for our development and use of advanced robotic additive-manufacturing technology to print sustainable materials like metal and resin—a technique at the heart of our biggest project to date.
We recently finished 3D printing the first-ever, fully functional pedestrian steel bridge, which will span across one of the oldest and most famous canals in the center of Amsterdam, the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. The project is our first step toward showcasingrobotic manufacturing solutions that have the potential to transform the industry.
Throughout the nearly four-year process of designing and printing this one-of-a-kind bridge, we assembled a team of partners—including Lenovo, Autodesk, The Alan Turing Institute, and others—to not only help bring the structure to life, but also push it even further by giving it the intelligence needed to inform the next generation of innovators in the space.
What do you mean by “intelligence?” How will this enhance the structure of the bridge?
This “intelligence” comes in the form of an IoT “nervous system.” It’s a sensor network on the bridge that allows our team to monitor the bridge’s health and “teach” it to understand what’s happening on it. Data obtained from the sensors visualize intelligence about bridge traffic, structural integrity, and the surrounding neighborhood. With these sensors, the bridge will even be able to measure environmental factors such as air quality and temperature, enabling engineers to monitor how it changes over its lifespan.
Ultimately, this sensor network will collect data to be used as input for a “digital twin” of the bridge—a living computer model that will reflect the physical bridge with growing accuracy in real time. The performance and behavior of the physical bridge can be tested against its “digital twin,” which will provide valuable insights to inform future designs for 3D-printed structures. It will also contribute to the next generation of efficient and data-driven architecture, engineering, and construction practices by monitoring the structure as thousands of people traverse it.
Tell us more about the sensor network. How was it developed, and who was involved in the process?
To create the sensor network, MX3D and our partners developed a machine-learning algorithm to teach the sensors to interpret and react intelligently to the environment around them. While cameras currently assist the sensors with tracking people and their activities on the bridge, the sensors will soon be intelligent enough to identify and record data, recognize specific behaviors, and gradually re-train and learn as the AI algorithm continues to collect and process information.
While Autodesk and The Alan Turing Institute work to perfect the design, installation, and data collection of the sensors, MX3D counts on Lenovo behind the scenes—running Autodesk’s applications with ease and offering the enormous level of computing power we require to analyze, sort, and inference data from the bridge in real time.
Using Lenovo’s ThinkStation P900 Series and broad portfolio of mobile workstations, our engineers are equipped with the power and reliability needed for their innovative AI solutions in the workshop and on top of the bridge itself. As a business striving to stay ahead, we’re always looking for the best technology and hardware to drive our business forward, and that’s where partners like Lenovo reliably deliver.
What’s next for MX3D?
While the bridge is complete and the sensor-system prototype is nearing the finish line, MX3D’s work is only just beginning. In addition to showcasing revolutionary structures in Amsterdam, we’re also partnering with a Dutch bridge builder to develop sustainable bicycle and pedestrian bridges across the Netherlands, as well as working with different companies to introduce additive manufacturing into their workflow. Whatever the task, MX3D is constantly focusing on discovering the next breakthrough that will help drive sustainability and growth across the industry.