A team from The Alan Turing Institute, Imperial College London and 3D printing company MX3D, as well as a member of the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), is collaborating to measure, analyse and monitor the performance of a 3D printed footbridge.

The innovative design is, in fact, a world first that is scheduled to be installed across a canal in Amsterdam later this year.

The stainless-steel bridge, which will be some 12-metres long, will set new records when it becomes the largest 3D printed metal structure. The bridge will cross the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal located in central Amsterdam, providing pedestrians and cyclists with access across the canal.

The structural engineering team have developed an innovative sensor network to fit on the bridge, with the help of statisticians, CSIC, mathematicians and computer scientists.

CSIC team member, Dr Elshafie provided some incredible insight into the sensor design:

“The sensors collect data on structural measurements including strain, displacement and vibration and measure environmental factors such as air quality and temperature.

“This enables engineers to monitor the ‘health’ of the bridge in real time and observe and record how it changes throughout its lifespan. The sensor network provides a ‘nervous system’ for the bridge and creates a living laboratory for the researchers and engineers.”

The information received from the sensors will be entered into a digital twin of the bridge. The twin will be a living computer model developed by the Steel Structures group at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial.

The purpose of the digital twin is to display and imitate the physical bridge, complete with growing accuracy in real time as and when data from the sensors are received.

What’s more, the bridge’s behaviour and performance can be pre-tested via the digital twin, offering up valuable insights into designs for future 3D printed metallic structures. Additionally, this allows scope for the current 3D bridge to be modified to suit any required changes in use of the structure; this will help to uphold its safety and security for users of the bridge.

You can get some more insight into the project in this video:

MX3D Bridge Update from anita star on Vimeo.

If you’re looking for assistance on a building design for your own project, whether for business or at home, our structural engineers (Devon & Cornwall-based), are on hand to help. For more information, get in touch with us today by calling 01579 345777.