The fourth industrial revolution is currently transforming production in many industries. However, the construction industry is not even in its third industrial revolution according to many construction experts – lagging behind other sectors in terms of productivity. One of the key differences is the degree of automation: Autonomation of production and smart factories are commonly used in manufacturing industries and even the fragmented agriculture industry adopted autonomous equipment leveraging geographic information systems extensively. Construction has been very slow to follow that trend and is still heavily reliant on low-skilled workers, especially in developing and emerging countries.
Amsterdam’s technology startup MX3D set out to radically transform construction how construction is done – developing an easy-to-use “plug & print” robotic additive manufacturing software platform to transform standard industrial robots (six-axis robotic arms) into a large-scale, mobile, 3D printer for construction. Using metal wire-arc additive manufacturing technology the startup ventured into its flagship “The Bridge” project – 3D printing a steel pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam to demonstrate the technology’s potential, attract the attention of customers and develop the necessary supply chain.
The project has brought MX3D into a creative collaboration with some major industry players, enhancing the technology with their complementary competencies. These partners include the industrial-robot specialist ABB, the design- and engineering-software provider Autodesk, the Dutch E&C company Heijmans, the specialist gas supplier Air Liquide, and the steel producer ArcelorMittal.
Using technology “to build what we could not build before”
Gijs van der Velden, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer
The main advantage of the technology is the unprecedented freedom of design – “to build what we could not build before” as co-founder and COO, Gijs van der Velden puts it. Using standard industrial robots the technology is becoming cost-competitive and realizes its full potential as the most eco-friendly (zero waste) technology when integrated into digital construction models.
In its journey towards installing its bridge in 2018 MX3D had to overcome many barriers – securing seed-financing, overcoming the conservatism in the construction industry, operating in an environment without clear regulation and managing a diverse group of stakeholders and industry partners.
Download the full case study to understand how they overcame those challenges and what other companies can learn from them.