Five questions for Joris Laarman

First 3D printed steel bridge in Amsterdam

Work has started on printing a metal bridge at the NDSM site in Amsterdam. A daring project where various international companies have joined forces with the Joris Laarman Lab. The aim: to print a real pedestrian bridge which can be placed across a canal in Amsterdam. So we decided to speak to Joris Laarman about local production and this 'new form of craftsmanship'.

June 11, 2015

Printing a bridge. How did you come up with this idea?

We were at the airport in San Francisco, on our way to a presentation about MX3D, and were brainstorming about what the ultimate poster project would be for showcasing all facets of our technology. We came to the conclusion that a bridge over the old canals of Amsterdam would be a fantastic metaphor for connecting the technology of the future with the city's historic past, in a way which would reveal the best aspects of both worlds. 

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In his lab in Amsterdam, Joris Laarman worked on the first drafts of the metal bridge.

I strongly believe in the future of digital manufacturing and local production - it's a 'new form of craftsmanship'. This bridge can show how 3D printing has finally entered the world of large-scale functional objects and sustainable materials, while enabling unrivalled freedom of design.

How does 3D metal printing actually work?

The underlying principle is very simple. We have connected an advanced welding machine to an industrial robot-arm. In principle, both pieces of equipment are made to perform repetitive actions. But we have now used our own intelligent software to operate these machines so they can print very complex metal shapes which can differ each time.

How does it work?
How does it work?
How does it work? 3D metal printing

Who are your partners in this project? Why are you also working with Heijmans?

We have been able to attract a group of partners who, besides making a financial contribution, also contribute to the project from their specific areas of expertise. This includes Autodesk, ABB, Air liquide and Lenovo. Heijmans is an important partner for us because this a Dutch infra/construction project. New technologies are becoming increasingly important in the western manufacturing industry, and Heijmans is a company which actively focuses on this area.

Which knowledge do you hope to acquire and will this project revolutionise the construction sector?

During the course of the project, we will undoubtedly encounter many things we have not catered for at this moment in time. It feels like uncharted territory where a whole world of innovation could still be discovered. At the end of the project, we want to have the confidence to perform other such projects throughout the world. But we have already learned a great deal while preparing for the project. This mainly involves dealing with organisation-related issues, considering we are working with so many different partners.

The project will effectively change the construction sector because it will add something which does not already exist. It will also allow tailor-made and complex metal elements, or combinations of materials, to be manufactured in a cost-effective manner. Digital manufacturing is no longer limited to the geometric capabilities of industrial machines, but actually makes it possible to continuously produce unique parametric shapes with the same level of convenience.

What’s next once the bridge has been printed?

As a company, we see a whole world of opportunities and want to grow quickly in order to increase our existing competitive advantage. And we want to do this in terms of software development, as well as hardware, production and intellectual property. However, when we initially revealed this new approach, we also received a lot of questions from rather unexpected sources. Therefore, despite having a rock solid plan, we also want to remain flexible so we can select the most inspirational projects.