Innovations in the Steel Industry

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steel bridgeThere are all kinds of innovations in and around the steel industry these days, all of which demonstrate the ingenuity of designers and engineers. Take for instance the world’s first 3D printed steel bridge, which was opened to the public in July 2021. The difficulties involved in the undertaking were pointed out at NCE’s recent TechFest conference by Imperial College London professor of structural engineering Leroy Gardner. He stated there were many unique “challenges to overcome” within 3D printing, but added, “that’s what makes it exciting”.

The bridge, built in Amsterdam, was printed by robotic arms and incorporated an advanced sensor network. This network was linked to a digital twin computer model, with the ability to monitor its performance in real-time. The main challenges were related to cost, process and variability of the product.

The wire and arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) method of metal 3D printing can be expensive, but is the preferred way to go. Other challenges relate to process and variability of the product. Leroy Gardener said, “We’ve got well-established standards and quality control process for normal steel. “We don’t have this for 3D printed material and you need to know this kind of information in order to decide safety factors and so on.”

Designing structures and finding the best techniques, also requires leading innovation, Gardener says, “Geometric freedom is good in a sense, but you’ve got to design it and if you open up Eurocode 3 [Design of steel structures] you’re not going to find anything suitable. “We need to think about how to design these structures and it’s probably more about sophisticated techniques, finite element modelling, this kind of thing.”

On the ability of 3D printing, Gardener said, “to place material in optimal configuration to resist the applied load” and “tailor material properties to meet the particular stress and ductility demands” presents “clear opportunities for reducing material use and waste, as well as increasing automation, in construction. “The MX3D bridge is a one-off but it shows what can be done and what might be possible in the future.

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