"Wow, it's the future, it's amazing!" … The musicians who visit the Syos workshop are always impressed by the technology used to craft the mouthpieces. But how does 3D printing work? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method? A small presentation guide is delivered here.
Additive manufacturing is the official name for 3D printing. Unlike machining, which consists of starting with a block of material and removing matter until you reach the desired shape, additive manufacturing starts from scratch and the material is added and agglomerated little by little until the object is fully complete.
The different technologies
There are different additive manufacturing technologies, the most common are:
Fused deposition modelling:
A coil of material (called "filament") is heated to its melting temperature through a nozzle, which comes to deposit very thin layers. The position of the nozzle varies over 3 axes (x, y, z) over time, which allows to build the desired up-and-down object layer by layer.
Selective Laser Sintering:
The object is built by agglomeration of powder of the material used (nylon, metal). A roller deposits a layer of powder on the manufacturing area, then a laser comes to heat the powder to glue the grains together and solidify a part of the surface. The operation is repeated until the object is built from top to bottom.
The raw material is in liquid form, it is polymerized layer by layer by UV rays that harden the resin in places. There are several forms of stereolithography: in some cases the object emerges from a layer of raw material (see the image below), in other cases the object is build in a tank of liquid from the top to the bottom.
Use of 3D printing for instrument making
The use of 3D printing to make musical instruments has increased in the past few years. For strings and percussion, the material used to make the instrument is crucial because it vibrates and creates sound. For wind instruments, however, the material has no influence on the sound, it is the internal geometry that counts. We can therefore use 3D printing to create wind instruments with variable geometric shapes, and this in new materials. Here are some examples of the use of 3D printing in instruments making:
The 3Dvarius is an electric violin printed in 3D by stereolithography (thus by curing a polymer resin). It was created by Laurent Bernadac, engineer and jazz violinist. For a purely electric instrument, the choice of material is less important (compared to a traditional violin). The instrument has been optimized for comfort, weight and handling to be superior to standard electric violins.
J. Wiss's trumpet
French craftsman Luthier Jérôme Wiss used 3D printing to work on a trumpet with a revolutionary form, which does not have the flaws of standard trumpets (for which some notes are wrong by nature). 3D printing was used to make and test prototypes, the final shape was made of metal.
A unique mouthpiece for each musician, the saxophonists dreamed of it, Syos did it! Syos mouthpieces are manufactured using fused deposition modelling. The geometry of the mouthpiece (the baffle, the chamber, the tip opening, the facing length...) are determined from the expectations of each musician. Thanks to 3D printing, it's possible to make unique pieces with different geometries for each musician (molding or machining costs less per piece, but only allows large series of identical pieces).
With 3D printing it's also possible to craft geometries that would not be possible otherwise: for example the deflectors used on certain baffles to create turbulence in the air flow. Last but not least, it's also an opportunity to design creative extra features even in the exterior of the mouthpieces (engravings, signatures ...).
Read also: Syos jobs: the 3D designer
Advantages and disadvantages
As a conclusion, here is a table summarizing the advantages and disadvantages of 3D printing technology for saxophone mouthpieces:
|Makes possible the tailor-made|
Create new geometry
Very fine control of the geometry (1 / 100th of a millimeter precision)
Extensive design possibilities
|Long (between 5 and 10 hours for a mouthpiece)|
More expensive than standard techniques
Limited Choice of materials and technologies (to meet the requirements of non-toxicity, color, solidity ...)
Requires strong expertise