July 28, 2014
Researchers at the University of Connecticut are using 3D printing medical technology to bring new life into some antique musical instruments.
After seeing how 3D scanning makes precise 3-D images of body parts, Dr. Robert Howe, a reproductive endocrinologist in East Longmeadow, Mass., realized the same CT technology could help him study delicate musical instruments from the past.
Howe, who is also a doctoral student in music theory and history at UConn, last year shared his thoughts with music theory professor Richard Bass, who contacted Sina Shahbazmohamadi, an engineer and the school's director for advanced 3D imaging.
Together, they have developed a new process: they first make images of those instruments using CT scanning technology and then create 3D copies of parts using 3D printing.
Before this technology, to make a copy of the handmade part an artisan would have to measure it with metal calipers and other instruments, which would have left marks. Then the artisan would have to translate those measurements into tooling. It was a time-consuming and costly process.
Dr. Robert Howe, a medical doctor and a PhD candidate in music history, displays antique English horns at the University of Connecticut's Depot Campus in Mansfield, Conn. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)
Using the new 3D imaging technology, the UConn team was able to show the construction of an 18th-century English horn and the result shows it was much more complicated than experts originally thought.
Because it is not possible to cut the rare and delicate instrument open, and traditional X-ray didn't show the construction as well because the pins are made of the same material as the horn, Shahbazmohamadi then came up with a new idea which allowed the team to scan metal and wood at the same time. This breakthrough allowed them to get exact 3-D images of items such as a mouthpiece from one of the first saxophones made by Adolphe Sax in the 19th century.
An original mouthpiece for a 19th-century saxophone built by Adolphe Sax, second from top left, sits among 3D copies. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)
"Only three original mouthpieces are known to exist in the entire world," Howe said.
The UConn team scanned the original mouthpiece and then produced a plastic replica on a 3D printer that can be fitted to the original saxophone. And it costs only $18. The team also has scaled the imaging data to size to make mouthpieces for a range of Sax's horns, from B-flat bass to E-flat sopranino.
Sina Shahbazmohamadi looks at a CT scan which shows a mouthpiece for a 19th-century saxophone built by inventor Adolphe Sax. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)
Shahbazmohamadi believes that one day, 3D printers can make exact copies in the original materials, or print out broken parts to repair the original ones.
Paul Cohen, a saxophonist who teaches at New York University, said the UConn team's work could help experts understand what centuries-old music was meant to sound like.
"The universal availability of 3-D printing, which is happening as we wait, will make all this work very relevant and not just for musical instruments," Howe said. "The ability to measure and replicate items that are difficult to measure and replicate is going to explode."
Dr. Robert Howe plays an antique recorder that was repaired using a 3D printing of the instrument's original bell. (AP Photo/Pat Eaton-Robb)
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