It is hard to imagine that brass instruments—so named because of the metal they are made from—could be produced using any other material. However, a recent, and rather melodious, project led by LOOP 3D and trombone musician Peter Körner has demonstrated that other materials and production methods could be viable for instrument repair. The production method I’m referring to is, of course, 3D printing. And this is the real story of the first 3D printed trombone.
Founded by Mehmet Erkan Ustaoğlu (also the founder of leading AM distribution firm Teknodizayn), LOOP 3D is one of the most interesting 3D printer manufacturers rising from the vibrant Turkish 3D printing market. As part of a continued effort to differentiate the range of applications it can offer, the company worked closely with Körner, a German-born musician with an impressive biography, to explore the potential of using 3D printing to produce a critical trombone part, the bell.
Traditionally, brass instruments such as the trombone are crafted by hand and made from brass, two factors that lead to the instrument’s relatively high cost. The joint project between LOOP 3D and Körner, therefore, sought to reduce the cost of producing the instrument as well as the lead times by using additive manufacturing.
“We wanted to reduce lead times and costs to be able to reach more musicians worldwide,” said Körner, Assoc. Prof. Dr. at the State Conservatory of the Uludag University in Bursa, Turkey. “When we learned that the 3D printing process is a lot cheaper and more flexible for design and production, we wanted to give it a try.”
The collaboration consisted of first 3D scanning the trombone, and specifically the screw bell section, the flared end of the instrument where the sound finally emerges. The 3D scan, captured using the Artec Space Spider, was then converted into a 3D model using reverse engineering software Geomagic Design.
In the remodeling process, the bell’s structure was optimized for 3D printing. As LOOP 3D explains, the instrument’s original wall thickness was too thin to 3D print, so it had to be increased. The company says that “this made the 3D printed bell sound even better, so we kept the thicker design.” LOOP 3D printed and tested a number of designs to find the optimal thickness for both durability and sound, and eventually, the best bell structure was achieved.
The trombone component was ultimately 3D printed using the LOOP PRO 3D printer and the company’s Dynamide-GF material, an industrial composite filament with glass fiber reinforcement. Notably, the bell section was printed as a single component and without the need for any supports, which facilitated the post-production process.
According to LOOP 3D and Körner, when installed on the trombone, the 3D printed bell had a good sound compared to the traditional all-brass instrument. Evidently, there were some differences: for instance, the overtones and projection were minimally lower than the original hand-hammered 0.4 mm thick screw bell, but the response and quality of the sound were even more convincing than the original. The 3D printed part, while perhaps not as durable as the original brass bell, was significantly cheaper to produce and has the benefit of being more lightweight.
All in all, the 3D printing experiment conducted by LOOP 3D and Körner demonstrated that the technology has the potential to be used for brass instruments, especially in cases where time and cost are the critical factors. Evidently, we won’t soon start seeing 3D printed trombones on stage, but it could be an interesting option for beginners, open-air concerts and practice instruments. By the way, the 3D printed bells are 70% lighter than traditional brass bells, which is an important factor when musicians have to play for long periods of time.
According to LOOP 3D: “The key benefits of using 3D printing were design freedom, which led us to find the optimal design easily; the short production times, which led us to achieve end-use results within a day; and lower prices compared to traditional methods. Also, the design freedom enables us to make custom products without the limitations that traditional methods have.”
This article was created in collaboration with LOOP 3D