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3D printed flutes set to revolutionise the music industry

UOW is exploring the potential for 3D printing to change the music industry through the creation of custom-designed flutes that can play a variety of microtonal tunings unavailable on standard instruments.

The project, part of UOW’s Global Challenges program, combines the field of microtonal music, which uses different tuning ratios than those traditionally used in Western music and offers a greater variety of pitch, intervals and harmonies, with the emerging technology of 3D printing to create wind instruments that are not feasible within standard manufacturing.

Lead researcher, microtonal musician and music lecturer at UOW, Dr Terumi Narushima, said the project could play a big role in the future of the music industry with the potential to create customised instruments to help musicians achieve unique sounds.

“This project takes on a different attitude to music-making,” Dr Narushima said.

“It’s about challenging the status quo of the music industry – looking at what kind of new music and new instruments we can create.

“3D printing helps us to understand the acoustics of wind instruments and how they can be fine-tuned through comparison with mathematical models and testing in UOW’s anechoic [echo-free] chamber”, Dr Narushima said.    

Several end-blown flutes with custom tunings have already been produced at the Australian National Fabrication Facility at UOW’s Innovation Campus and featured in live theatre performances in, locations around Australia. The team has also been invited to take part in the Embracing Innovations exhibit at Craft ACT’s Craft and Design Centre in July this year.  

Global Challenges, Manufacturing Innovation Leader, Professor Geoffrey Spinks said the possibilities of the project, which has won a Vice Chancellor’s Award for Interdisciplinary Research Excellence by bringing together academics from music, engineering and the arts, are endless.

“There are huge possibilities for the future of this project. We can see many applications moving forward with areas like custom-made instruments for people with physical restrictions, student models for use by children where the instrument grows as they do, customised instrument design where alternative designs can be printed and tested prior to production, as well as print on demand options,” he said.

UOW’s Global Challenges Program is a major research initiative designed to address the complex problems facing the world through multidisciplinary research. ‘Manufacturing Innovation’ is one of the central challenges, focusing on local creative and experimental manufacturing processes and the social and cultural impacts of the changing technologies on individuals and communities.

The research team involved in this project also includes Associate Professor Christian Ritz, Dr Stephen Beirne, Matthew Dabin and Kraig Grady.

Dr Narushima will be performing with the 3D printed flutes at the Big Ideas Festival at UOW in August. 

  • Lead researcher, microtonal musician and music lecturer at UOW, Dr Terumi Narushima with 3D printing expert Dr Stephen Beirne from the Australian National Fabrication Facility and PhD student Matthew Dabin.