Ottawa Symphony Orchestra fiddles with 3D printing

Ottawa Symphony Orchestra
Five of the eight soloists performing at the 3D String Theory event on Nov. 4. From left to right: Marlena Pellegrino, Hanna Williamson, Natalie Deschesnes, Alisa Klebanov, Geena Salway. Photo by Mark Holleron.
Editor's Note

The location of the 3D String Theory event has been corrected from the NAC to City Hall.

A Quebec entrepreneur’s background in 3D printing is adding a new dimension to an upcoming performance from the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.

Laurent Lacombe, co-founder of Gatineau-based Creadditive, has developed eight 3D-printed instruments for the 3D String Theory performance at Ottawa City Hall on Nov. 4. For the past few months, he’s worked alongside Ottawa-based violin-maker Charline Dequincey to perfect the design and sound of the 3D-printed stringed instruments.

Lacombe’s firm Creadditive, which he runs from a satellite office in Quebec City, specializes in additive manufacturing – the more formal name for 3D printing – in fields such as heritage restoration. The Quebec-born engineer studied at Laval University and started his career in the province’s medical and dental fields.

Lacombe tells Techopia that no matter the final product, the process for designing and manufacturing detail-specific implements is fairly consistent.

“Whether you’re designing a part for heritage, or a mechanical part in a car, or implants in the medical field or a violin, it’s basically the same techniques,” he says.

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Alisa Klebanov holds the 3D-printed instrument she'll play at the 3D String Theory event on Nov. 4. Photo by Mark Holleron.
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Geena Salway holds the 3D-printed instrument she'll play at the 3D String Theory event on Nov. 4. Photo by Mark Holleron.

To design the instruments that eight soloists will play at the 3D String Theory event, Lacombe created a two-dimensional rendering of Dequincey’s original violin via CT scan. Through a process called “segmentation” – common in the design of custom medical implants – Lacombe converted the 2D file into a 3D model of the instrument.

Creating an instrument worthy of a professional musician’s hand, however, requires further fine-tuning. Plastic is heavier than wood, so the body of the violin had to be modified as to not weigh down the players’ arms. Dequincey would give regular feedback on the process to achieve the best compromise between weight, design and, most importantly, sound.

“Honestly, the first time I heard the sound, I was really impressed,” says Lacombe, himself an amateur piano player.

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Composer Harry Stafylakis (left), a 3D printing technician, and soloists (L-R: Jessie Ramsay, Mary-Elizabeth Brown, and Lisa Moody) at the Industrial Technology Centre in Winnipeg where the instruments were printed. Photo provided by Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.
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Segment of 3D-printed instrument, with support material. Photo provided by Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.

He admits to noticing a difference between the traditional wooden versions and the 3D-printed alternative, says the goal of this experiment isn’t about matching the traditional sounds – it’s about seeing what new manufacturing techniques can bring to an old art form.

While Lacombe is skeptical that 3D printing would ever replace the care and effort that goes into handcrafting top-notch instruments, he says the technique could be an entry point for burgeoning musicians who want to take up the violin but are costed out from a wooden model.

Whether he’s designing a new wave of instrument or using the innovative process to restore aging architecture, Lacombe says he sees a growing acceptance for 3D printing in the mainstream. As designers and manufacturers begin to embrace the technique, the applications for 3D printing will grow exponentially, he says.

“People are starting to be aware that additive manufacturing is not a toy or a joke on the internet anymore.”

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