The Alan Turing Institute has announced an ambitious project to install sensors on and monitor a 3D-printed smart bridge in Amsterdam.
Alan Turing is widely credited as being the father of modern computing. The institute named after him has pioneering ambitions to a similar degree, having been founded by five of the UK’s top universities in 2015.
Now, a research team from the Alan Turing Institute has announced is partnering with 3D printing specialists MX3D to design, build and monitor a 3D printed stainless steel bridge.
The 12-meter long structure will be the largest of its kind in the world and is due to be installed across an Amsterdam canal in 2018.
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Stability and local environment
As well as being 3D printed, the bridge will be embedded with a network of sensors to collect data on structural measurements and environmental factors.
Data points will include strain, displacement, vibration, air quality and temperature. The result will be a bridge that engineers can observe the bridge’s use and performance in real time, while taking in the big picture over the course of its lifespan.
Data scientists from the Alan Turing Institute will also be inputting all of the information gathered by the bridge in Amsterdam into a ‘digital twin’ of the structure. This will create a living computer model designed to imitate the physical bridge with growing accuracy as more data is gathered.
As well as providing local authorities in Amsterdam with live information on environmental factors in the city, the team hopes to gain insights that will inform the designs of future 3D-printed metallic structures.
Professor Mark Girolami, director of the Turing-Lloyd’s Register Foundation Programme for data-centric engineering, has suggested that the multidisciplinary approach to the build and implementation of the bridge makes it unique.
“The 3D bridge being installed by the MX3D team next year will be a world-first in engineering,” he said. “This data-centric, multidisciplinary approach to capturing the bridge’s data will also mark a step-change in the way bridges are designed, constructed, and managed, generating valuable insights for the next generation of bridges and other major public structures.”
“It is a powerful embodiment of what data-centric engineering can deliver as a discipline, and I look forward to seeing the bridge in action from summer next year.”
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New design language
By making sensors an intrinsic part of the structure, the research team hopes that this will set a precedent for smarter bridges in future. Embedding technology could have a significant impact at every stage of the process.
Scientists from Imperial College London will work with MX3D to carry out material testing on the 3D printed steel, in an effort to anticipate the impact of pedestrian or cyclists over the bridge and inform its design before construction starts. Software engineers from Autodesk and The Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions will be exploring new ways to use and connect the bridge data with other aspects of the city.
As Gijs van der Velden, chief operating officer of MX3D, pointed out: “The MX3D technique offers engineers the freedom of working with metals in an entirely new way. The Alan Turing Institute’s digital twin of the bridge will help with the creation of a new design language. We hope that this data-centric engineering method will speed up the introduction of this exciting new production technique into the construction market.”