How Is 3D Printing Changing Construction Techniques?

Spanning a canal in Amsterdam, the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge has opened to foot and bicycle traffic.
Spanning a canal in Amsterdam, the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge has opened to foot and bicycle traffic.

The pedestrian bridge that opened in Amsterdam's red-light district in July 2021 didn't just connect two sides of a canal: It connected the past to the future. That's because the 40-foot (12.2-m) steel structure wasn't the work of a hard-working construction crew, but of four industrial robots cementing layers of a structure produced by a 3D printer.

The four-year project was developed by Imperial College London and is considered a landmark in the 3D-printing revolution. "A 3D-printed metal structure large and strong enough to handle pedestrian traffic has never been constructed before," Professor Leroy Gardner said. "We have tested and simulated the structure and its components throughout the printing process and upon its completion, and it’s fantastic to see it finally open to the public." The bridge, which spans the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, is open to both cyclists and pedestrian traffic.

3-degrees of inspiration:

  • Although only now coming into common use, 3D printing patents and experiments first appeared in the 1980s.

  • Kidney and skin tissue are two types of living parts being developed through a process known as 3D bioprinting.

  • 3D printing promises to have valuable applications for space travel, where storage is at a premium. Printing everything from food to tools is expected to be possible.

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    • Spanning a canal in Amsterdam, the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge has opened to foot and bicycle traffic.
      Spanning a canal in Amsterdam, the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge has opened to foot and bicycle traffic.