Longest 3D printed cycle bridge hints at the future of design practices in construction

Posted by Derek Mason

21st December 2021

Photo by eMotion Tech on Unsplash

How can we give ourselves more freedom to design structures that aren’t restricted by traditional building methods?

One answer is 3D printing, something that the city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands has embraced in their building of a 29-metre bridge. This bridge is the longest concrete 3D printed cycle bridge in the world to date.

Designed based on research from Eindhoven University of Technology and then printed, layer by layer in a workshop, the bridge is now in use in Geologenstrook park.

This innovative project is helping to demonstrate the advantages of 3D printing, where structures can be built much faster and with greater design freedom. This bridge is made up of rounded, wavy shapes that would be impossible to create in concrete using standard construction methods.

Traditional concrete bridge designs are restricted to the geometry that’s possible using standard moulds, but this design incorporates unusual curves.

Another advantage of this kind of project is that less concrete is needed, making it a more sustainable construction process. When 3D printing was first developed it was very expensive. But as more of these projects reach completion, we have something approaching a “proof of concept” that 3D printing is a good, sustainable option for producing bridges, houses and other structures.

Theo Salet, Professor of Concrete Structures at Eindhoven University of Technology, is excited about the prospect of 3D printing being used more and the environmental benefits of that. He has said, “The printing of concrete has enormous growth potential. We use less raw materials because the concrete printer only adds material where it actually supports the construction. We can also drastically increase the construction speed. In the future, we want to make concrete more sustainable and also reuse it. There is much more to achieve.”

The bridge in Nijmegen also commemorates the city being awarded European Green Capital 2018, an honour given to cities that are leading the way in environmentally friendly urban living.

Projects such as this cycle bridge help promote 3D printing as an option in the construction industry and will hopefully lead to more innovation in the sector.

As a sector, we are already skilled in Building Information Modelling (BIM), meaning that the information needed to create a component for 3D printing usually already exists after the design phase. And since 3D printing in construction could contribute to reducing labour costs and cutting waste, it is something that it would be wise for us to embrace, especially where we need complex or highly bespoke elements.

I’ll be following developments in 3D printing with interest, and it will be fascinating to see what those at the forefront of this technology are designing and building. With such a quick process, we shouldn’t have too long to wait for the next innovative build!

In the meantime, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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