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3D printing comes of age – creating major urban infrastructure

I am a huge fan of Amara’s Law, and have been known to quote it extensively in talks. This is because humans are not very good at estimating things. Especially estimating what technologies will have long term impact on our lives.

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

Roy Amara, past president of The Institute for the Future

3D printing is such a thing. This is a technology that is going to reshape things in major ways in the future. We got a taste of this recently with the new World’s first 3D-printed steel footbridge unveiled by Queen Máxima in Amsterdam

This new use of 3D printing and design technology enables design by experiment, through the use of a digitally-driven design process. The design team was able to run digital simulations of the bridge until deciding on an optimal shape. The process is outlined here.

This project also has the potential to monitor the bridge for potential failure via use of sensors:

Mark Girolami at the University of Cambridge, who is working on the digital model with a team at the Alan Turing Institute in London, says that investigations into  bridge failures often reveal deterioration that was missed. Constant data feedback may have been able to prevent these failures by providing an early warning, he says.”

New Scientist: World’s first 3D-printed steel bridge opens in Amsterdam

This is the first time that a large-scale piece of urban infrastructure has been created in this way. But it will not be the last.