Printing Musical Instruments

By on December 28th, 2010 in Usage, video

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Tipster Jb pointed us at a video of a rather startling project: Printing a complete musical instrument. In this case, MIT Media Lab researcher Amit Zoran attempted to print an entire and working flute in one operation.

We’re not sure if printing an object of this complexity has ever been attempted before; we’ve seen some items with moving parts, such as nuts and bolts, hinges, joints, etc. This feat involves not only producing the moving parts, but also ensuring that the integrity of the entire “system” is sufficient to produce beautiful music. According to Zoran:

Our goal is to produce a flute using 3D printer technologies, a flute that is compatible with a traditional concert flute both acoustically and ergonomically.

And they seem to have mostly achieved their goal. In the video, you’ll see a puzzled flute player actually producing music from the object. While not a perfect result (some of the keys weren’t quite right), the project has overcome a number of challenges:

  • Printing a complex design involving multiple moving parts
  • Achieving air-tight surface joins suitable for musical note production, using soft material
  • Producing the right physical “feel” for the musician using different materials (a key feature of the Objet Connex500 3D printer used in this project)
  • Ensuring “perfect” sounds, at least according to flutist Seth Hunter

The 15 hour print involved producing 4 parts, which with some non-3D printed springs were assembled into the final flute. Examining the video of the actual print on the Connex500, we see huge amounts of support material used, which is inevitable given the amazing number of movable parts and overhangs in the complex design.

Nevertheless, there were a few snags that we suspect will be fixed in this ongoing project, such as key spacing for improved ergonomics and beefier design for the areas subject to wear. The project also envisions designs for musical instruments that are entirely new, possibly leading to new forms of music in the future.

All said, this is a huge feat that we greatly admire. Think about it: you can now print a very complex instrument – on demand! If this can be done, what will be next?

Via YouTube (Hat tip to Jb Labrune)

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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