InnoCity: Intricate bridges to the future

Engineering | innovation | mobility of the future | Urbanization | Where is traffic in megacities to be put? Modular elevated roadways and bridges could be the answer, as the InnoCity project shows.

Space is in increasingly short supply in large megacities worldwide. The rapid growth of cities is posing serious problems to planners and authorities if residents are to stay mobile and business and commerce are to prosper. However, whereas in past decades the priority was to supplement urban transportation networks by building underground systems, today the promise of relief comes from moving in the opposite direction: more than 150 years after the world’s first subway was built in London, airy steel structures and bridges could rise up in the future and create space for traffic.

InnoCity combines elegance and practicability

One example of this is “InnoCity.” In this project, thyssenkrupp is getting to grips with what society needs from modern urban planning. Innovative roadways on intricate, lightweight-construction steel structures combine special aesthetic qualities with  racticability. “At present, we are working out the potential of InnoCity with possible users,” reports Dr. Lothar Patberg, Head of Innovation at thyssenkrupp Steel Europe. “In parallel, we are in the process of resolving fundamental questions, such as, ‘How long-lasting will the structures be?’ and ‘How do we measure the economic value of such schemes?’”

The innovation unit has been working on InnoCity for a few years, and the first roadway could be in place as early as next year. In some local authorities, it is being talked about as a solution for cycle paths. “The planning of cycle paths is a matter of supply,” observes Andreas Cott, who is involved with InnoCity as a project leader in the Innovation team. “People will use bicycles if the supply is there. This is why it is so important to bridge the gap in built-up traffic hubs by creating new roadways.” This solution must not just offer maximum safety to all road users but also let through as much light as possible by the use of an intricate structure for the roadway.

Light and easy: Intricate structures let as much light as possible through.Light and easy: Intricate structures let as much light as possible through.

Conventional bridges are very expensive

Bridges made of steel or concrete have existed for a long time. They enable people to cross roads and rail tracks safely. However, such structures are expensive and take up a lot of space: planning and tendering processes and construction work using concrete have long presented major challenges to cities and municipalities, and the unsatisfactory results can be seen in many places today.

InnoCity is different. Its long lifespan and the industrial production of its individual elements reduce the overall cost. Here, thyssenkrupp uses processes from the automotive industry, such as a modular, scalable construction kit of materials and production technologies. For instance, the roadway or bridge is composed of prefabricated modules that are bolted together on-site instead of being welded. Despite the standardized production process, the individual elements allow for each roadway to be adapted precisely to local conditions with a variety of support radii or gradient angles.

Maximum flexibility for the traffic of tomorrow

A bionic optimization process enables engineers to calculate the structures and the distribution of loads for all vehicle types precisely. “By virtually subdividing the assembly space into a lot of small sections, we can use the finite element method and bionic optimization to simulate the efficient use of materials,” Cott says. The design of the supports was adjusted and structurally optimized on this basis. As the engineers used 3D production processes, they were able to develop lighter structures with conventional steel. Finally, digital elements – such as sensors for counting traffic or for the automated collection of tolls – could also prepare the roadways for the use of autonomous vehicles.

To make this complex product market-ready, experts from the whole company are working together. “InnoCity is not just a thyssenkrupp Steel Europe product,” Patberg says. “Other units, such as thyssenkrupp Elevator, are involved in it with their products and know-how, as is thyssenkrupp Mill Services with its expertise in steel construction.” This is because it is only through a holistic approach based on state-of-the-art technologies that it will also be possible to ensure seamless mobility in the cities of the future.

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