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The generatively designed electric GD Violin

Created in Fusion 360, prototyped via 3D printing by Autodesk and CNC-milled in wood

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Generative design helped Kevin Baslé, a gifted luthier, create a new manufacturing process for electric violins. The resulting method uses Autodesk Fusion 360 to design the GD Violin and combines the best parts of human craftsmanship and digital manufacturing technology, such as 3D printing for prototyping and low-cost CNC milling for wood crafting.

Baslé designed and made the GD Violin with the help of engineers at the Autodesk Technology Center in Birmingham, UK. The design of the acoustic violin has remained relatively unchanged for centuries, but electric violins have developed greatly in recent years as manufacturing technologies have matured. This enables violinists to express their own unique personalities through instrument design. The most common materials for electric violins today are plastics, acrylic, and carbon fiber. Kevin wanted to return to using the material he knew best, wood, because of its warmth and character. But how could he balance cost and playability while creating something truly unique for his customers?

Peter Storey, a research engineer at Autodesk, introduced Kevin to Fusion 360 and showed him how generative design can be used for a completely new way to design electric violins. The first step was giving the generative design algorithms some constraints to work with. “We explored what the bare minimum needed for a violin to function is: the places where the strings and standard fittings attach and the places the violinist would normally hold while playing. We started modeling only these parts in Fusion 360,” says Storey.

By keeping only essential parts, the generative design algorithm had maximum freedom to create a unique design that was as lightweight as possible. This method is scalable too—each dimension can be changed, yielding a set of bespoke design constraints based on the intended player’s preference.

The generatively designed electric GD Violin, Created in Fusion 360 and prototyped via 3D printing by Autodesk
After setting the constraints, the generative design engine in Fusion 360 proposed a range of solutions that mimic the organic shapes and lines in nature. Every design solution met the requirements that the team specified—sometimes in unexpected ways.

Unlike acoustic violins, the shape and volume of an electric violin have almost no effect on the instrument’s sound, so electric violin players have a near-infinite license to design their violin. This quality makes electric violins—and other electric instruments—ideal for generative design software.

A favorite design was chosen, and manufacturing began. Storey 3D printed an initial prototype at the Autodesk Technology Center in Birmingham to ensure the selected design functioned perfectly before moving forward.  The GD Violin is a perfect combination of human craftsmanship and advanced technology. Generative design created the design from parameters set by Storey and Baslé, but it still demands the artisan’s touch. “Although the shape of the body has little effect on the acoustics, without Kevin’s expert craft, it would not sound the way it does,” says Storey. The expert touch of an experienced luthier is still required to perfect the instrument.

Storey milled the violin body using a 3-axis CNC machine, to prove that Baslé could use a simple desktop CNC machine for milling wood in his workshop. Combining a powerful generative design tool, a desktop router, and an expert luthier is a completely novel way to manufacture an electric violin. This workflow bridges the gap between the lengthy handmade acoustic violin process and mass production that offers little customization for the individual player.

Fusion 360 allowed Kevin to design without constraint, and it keeps the cost of manufacture as low as possible. Kevin affirms “Fusion 360 is an important professional tool to have for making this violin as it is an affordable software which allows me to make a high-quality finished product, and to keep the price low.”

Original story.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based 3dpbm. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites 3D Printing Media Network and Replicatore, as well as 3D Printing Business Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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