Buying an ODD




3D Printed stuff





At the 2013 Euromold trade show, Avi Reichental, the head of 3D Systems, gave me the challenge of making a 3D printed saxophone to go with the rest of the 3D printed orchestra and, never being able to resist a challenge, I have been giving it a go. I still have a long way to go to get it perfect, but here we are, 6 months later, with a little clip showing the very first iteration...

And an important note: I am not a sax player, so be amazed by what 3D printing is capable, rather than by how my awful sax playing might be. And, yes, a couple of the notes are slightly out of tune because of air leakages. The next iterations will be perfect, I promise!

Surprisingly to me, the sax sounds very much like a sax. I have a traditional sax that I used to copy the various key spacings and they both sound pretty similar. There are injection molded plastic saxophones around on the market, so I guess a plastic sax is not unheard of. I suppose it’s the same progression as clarinets, which went from wood to Bakelite (and some in metal) to plastic. Undoubtedly, there is a difference in sound between a plastic and a metal instrument, but it’s hard to say that one sounds worse, or better, than the other. My suspicion is that it has a lot more to do with the player than the instrument…

For the next iteration, mechanically, I will be integrating all the springs as a direct part of the keys. The current iteration uses traditional metal springs for all the keys, but those springs are designed to be hammered into the metal (to prevent them from spinning) which is something that cannot be done with plastic. If I get access to a multi-material printer, I might also give integrating the sax pads (which on a traditional sax are padded leather) directly into the keys.

And I’ll be doing major work on a the aesthetic shape of it to take advantage of what 3D printing can do. Think of the current iteration as a prototype that was done mainly to get all the mechanical aspects of it right, so the next one I can go a bit wilder on the aesthetics. I’m thinking maybe a cornucopia type look, or maybe a rock & roll 3D flame job…

On the technical side, the sax currently has 41 components excluding all the springs and screws, It is printed in nylon, on a SLS machine, and weighs less than a quarter of a real sax (575 grams vs 2.5 Kg. Weight might go up a tad once painted, though, but still a lot less than a metal one).

The whole instrument was designed in Solidworks, the CAD package I happen to be comfortable with, by taking measurements off a traditional sax. Even that was a bit of a nightmare as the holes and keys on a sax are absolutely all over the place.

The first go at assembling the sax took a couple of days but it only allowed me to play a single note. To get it working semi-properly took a few weeks to figure out which keys were not quite closing properly, and which keys were affecting other keys.

One of the reasons I was keen to undertake the project was to show that 3D printing can be used for applications beyond trinkets, phone cases, and jewelry. Note that there is nothing wrong at all with those, but I want to explore real-world applications for more complex products that go beyond single component/ single material/ single manufacturing method. To me, 3D printing has an enormous future role to play in manufacturing all sorts of products. But, what’s important to me, is not to see it as replacing conventional manufacturing, but to be a complementary technology to traditional ones, and to use it only when it truly gives us an advantage. My guitars are a good example of this: the bodies are 3D printed, which allows me to do incredibly complex shapes that could not be otherwise manufactured, but the necks and wooden cores are CNC machined, the bridge is cast, the plastic bits are injection molded, the inlay work is done with laser cutting and engraving, etc.

It’s also important to differentiate between ‘prototyping’ and ‘manufacturing’. For prototyping 3D printing can be used for almost anything, be it simple or complex, just because it allows you to test your ideas quickly (but, if you are 3D printing a square, or some other very simple 2D shape, you may seriously want to consider some other way of making it (like laser cutting it instead, or even cutting it by hand, for example). But, for real manufacturing of sell-able products, it’s important to use 3D printing only in those areas where it really adds value, like incredibly complex parts, parts that need to be customized for every user, light-weighting of parts, part consolidation, etc.

So, to my mind, what we need are more and more good example applications of real products showing how 3D printing can be used as an integral part of the manufacturing chain in an appropriate way. And that’s where I am now wanting to spend a lot of my time, in finding cool new product applications for 3D printing beyond musical instruments.

Some still pics of the sax below...



copyright 2011, olaf diegel