Lindstruments Materials and Processes

Lindstruments has by now become well known amongst the piping and traditional music communities, for having taken the decision to use 3D printing technologies to make newly designed and therefore otherwise unavailable instruments available to players, in particular the Lindsay system chanter for Scottish smallpipes.

The reasoning behind this decision was simple. The Lindsay System Chanter, which is Lindstruments core project and raison d'être, is an entirely new design of Scottish smallpipe chanter. It was developed using 3D printing (see the story here), and even in its finished, working form still represents a considerable burden in terms of research & development for any pipe maker who might wish to make it from wood. The decision was therefore taken, in 2015, to release the chanter as a 3D printed instrument.

Following this decision, the design of the Low D Qwistle head began to explore the potential of 3D printing to allow shapes and forms to be created that would be difficult to execute using other manufacturing methods. The interior of the Low D Qwistle head has a very sophisticated shape, which has a decisive effect on the tone and response of the whistle. 

Extensive experience with this manufacturing method had proven that an equivalent sound quality to wood could be obtained. By making the chanter available via 3D printing, a community of players might have the opportunity to develop around the new design, thus preparing the ground for any future experiments in rendering the design into wood by traditional pipemakers.

Plastics are expected by players of Scottish bellows pipes, to provide an inferior tone and sound quality to wood. In the case of 3D printed materials, this expectation can be argued to be misplaced in the case of certain materials. 

The article "3D Printed Replicas of Historical Woodwinds" by mechanical engineer Federico Xiccato, materials scientist Gabriele Ricchiardi, and musician and teacher Manuel Staropoli, and published in the May 2018 newsletter of The Galpin Society for the Study of Musical Instruments (pages 5 to 7), discusses the use of 3D printing to produce effective replicas of historical recorders. The material being used in these experiments is of the same type as we are using, and its properties are described as follows :

"The best results have been obtained with the technique of Nylon laser sintering, which guarantees relatively high precision and very robust and safe products. Sintered Nylon has a density similar to boxwood and a slight porosity which makes it suitable to be finished like wood." (Galpin Society Newsletter May 2018)

This type of material, which includes that used to construct the Lindsay System and Qwistle series' of instruments, was first used by us in 2013 and its wood-like acoustic properties were immediately apparent. 

As the article notes, the material can also be finished in a similar manner to wood. The raw prints are snow white in colour, and remain so below the surface. A colouring process has however been developed, through which the surface of the piece is infused with colour to a depth of around 0.2mm. This has proven deep enough to resist day to day wear and abrasion in our experience, with the white substrate only being revealed if the part is actually cut or drilled.

3D printed objects are constructed using a variety of methods, and in the case of both "Fused Deposition Modelling" and "Selective Laser Sintering" (the two methods with which we have the most experience), the printing process we use results in a material that while solid and strong, has a "grain" of sorts, and a degree of porosity that is similar to a hardwood. Hand finishing and fine tuning is required by both processes, as the tolerances required in woodwind instrument making are so incredibly fine, that most 3D printing processes (even highly accurate industrial machines) will still produce parts with subtle variations in performance. The work at this fine-tuning stage is similar to that carried out on a traditional set of pipes, using fine hand tools, so there is also the touch of the makers hand on all of our instruments.