Olaf Diegel is making sweet music on a 3D printed alto saxophone

Interesting Engineering

When Olaf Diegel attended Euromold last year he saw a band playing 3D printed instruments and he was then challenged by the Professor of Product Development at Lund University in Sweden to make a working 3D printed saxophone. He has now revealed the first prototype.


[Image Source: ODD]

Diegel took a traditional alto saxophone and used it as a template so that he could reverse engineer the key spacings and mechanisms. He constructed his design using SolidWorks CAD software and produced the STL files that he was going to need to make the saxophone on a selective laser sintering printer. His work on the 3D printed saxophone took him 6 months due to other commitments and then he finally had a working prototype comprised of 41 components.


[Image Source: ODD]

He said "This first one was printed from my own analysis of a sax, but based on measurements, and the mechanisms/linkages from a traditional sax." "It really surprised me as to how mechanically complex a sax was and it did make me wonder as to whether the mechanisms could be simplified."


[Image Source: ODD]

He managed to manually install the metal springs for the keys on his prototype and the next thing he needs to do is include springs that are a direct part of the keys along with being able to integrate the pads in the keys, this is providing that he can get access to a multi-material 3D printer.


[Image Source: ODD]

He went on to say "On a conventional sax most of the springs are just bits of spring wire that are hammered into the metal up stands of the sax, and then bent into shape to provide the right amount of tension to each key." "But, when I try the same thing on a plastic up stand, there is not quite enough grip, so the springs rotate themselves into a position that doesn’t give the right spring tension for the key. That’s why I want to integrate the spring directly into the key. So in this case I am doing it because I think it will work better than a hybrid traditional sax design. But the down-side is that it will take me several iterations of key design to figure out a ‘formula’ that allows me to get the right amount of tension (it’s quite complex as some keys need more tension than others depending on whether they trigger more than one pad at a time)."

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[Image Source: ODD]

The initial assembly of the prototype took a couple of days, however, he could only produce one single note, this meant he had to keep working for a few more weeks to work out which of the keys on the saxophone were not closing properly or were having an effect on each other. The completed saxophone weighs 575g; this is around a quarter of the weight of the typical saxophone.

The next step is to work on the design of the saxophone so that he can show off what can be done when 3D printing technology is pushed to the limits. He did this for the intricate ODD guitars, modelled on the Americana.

"The aesthetic redesign shouldn’t take too long, but I am guessing the redesign of the keys will take me a few months of iterations to figure out the magic formula that makes it all work," he said. "So my guess for the final version is early next year. Not sure yet whether the sax will be available for purchase. Once I’ve got the final design done, it will be a matter of seeing whether it’s commercially viable. I am very much hoping it will be, and that’s one of the reasons why I am working on changing the design to keep the assembly and tweaking down to a minimum."

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