Olaf Diegel reveals first prototype of 3D-printed alto saxophone
By Paul Ridden
August 4, 2014
While attending Euromold 2013 in Frankfurt, Germany, last December with a band playing 3D-printed instruments, Olaf Diegel was set a challenge by the head of 3D Systems, Avi Reichental. The Professor of product development at Lund University, Sweden was given the task of creating a 3D-printed working saxophone. The first ODD prototype was revealed last week in a short demonstration video, which you can see after the jump.
For the latest addition to the 3D-printed band, Diegel used a traditional alto sax as a design template to match the various key spacings and mechanisms. He worked in SolidWorks CAD software to produce the STL files needed for printing the nylon blower on a selective laser sintering (SLS) printer. The process took around 6 months due to a move from New Zealand to Sweden and other projects that demanded his attention, and the working prototype is made up of 41 components, not including springs and screws.
"This first one was printed from my own analysis of a sax, but based on measurements, and the mechanisms/linkages from a traditional sax," he told Gizmag. "It really surprised me as to how mechanically complex a sax was and it did make me wonder as to whether the mechanisms could be simplified."
Diegel has manually installed all of the metal springs for all of the keys for the current prototype, but says that the next iteration will include springs as a direct part of the keys, as well as integrating the pads in the keys (if he can get access to a multi-material printer).
"On a conventional sax most of the springs are just bits of spring wire that are hammered into the metal upstands of the sax, and then bent into shape to provide the right amount of tension to each key," Diegel revealed. "But, when I try the same thing on a plastic upstand, there is not quite enough grip, so the springs rotate themselves into a position that doesn’t give the right spring tension for the key. That’s why I want to integrate the spring directly into the key. So in this case I am doing it because I think it will work better than a hybrid traditional sax design. But the down-side is that it will take me several iterations of key design to figure out a ‘formula’ that allows me to get the right amount of tension (it’s quite complex as some keys need more tension than others depending on whether they trigger more than one pad at a time)."
Initial assembly of this prototype is said to have taken a couple of days, but only a single note could be produced after that so he then spent a few more weeks working out which keys were affecting each other or not closing properly. The finished 3D-printed sax tips the scales at 575 g (20 oz), which is said to be less than a quarter of the weight of the traditional instrument it was modeled after.
As you can see from the short demo video below, the white nylon sax is playable and, in spite of a couple of misfires, sounds pretty good.
The next step is to attack the overall design of the instrument to best show off the kind of envelopes that can be pushed with 3D printing technology, in much the same way as he did for the beautifully intricate ODD Guitars (Diegel has also released a video detailing the making of an Americana model 3D-printed guitar, which we're sure you'll find as interesting as we do).
"The aesthetic redesign shouldn’t take too long, but I am guessing the redesign of the keys will take me a few months of iterations to figure out the magic formula that makes it all work," he said. "So my guess for the final version is early next year. Not sure yet whether the sax will be available for purchase. Once I’ve got the final design done, it will be a matter of seeing whether it’s commercially viable. I am very much hoping it will be, and that’s one of the reasons why I am working on changing the design to keep the assembly and tweaking down to a minimum."