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If you are a millennial, there was probably some point in your childhood or perhaps in your adulthood in which you longed and dreamed of being a rockstar. Perhaps the alluring stage presence of and mythical talent of musicians like Jimi Hendrix is what garnered your attention, fueling your dreams of stadium packed solos and the occasional guitar smash.
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Though there are various aspects to being a rockstar, there is one symbol that stands out above the rest, the electric guitar. Since its arrival on the market in 1952, the electric guitar has reshaped modern music evolving slowly over time with various genres and alongside technology.
Using additive manufacturing or 3D printing, the high-tech global engineering group Sandvik has created a guitar that even some of your favorite rockstars couldn't break.
Tested and graced by the fingers of legendary guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, the project is an exercise in how Sandvik could use cutting edge technology to create something both beautiful, functional and “amazingly durable.”
Today we are going to take a deep dive into Sandvik’s smash proof guitar and the technology used to design and bring it into existence. It’s very metal.
Making the Unbreakable Guitar
Any engineer will tell you that making something both extremely durable with design elements of almost a craftsman is no easy feat. However, the innovative evolution of additive manufacturing is slowly opening the doors to a host of possibilities.
Klas Forsström, President of Sandvik Machining Solutions, said it best stating, “Advanced materials, precision machining, additive manufacturing, data-driven production—these are the kinds of processes it takes to create something as complicated and beautiful as a guitar for a master musician.”
To get started, the Sandvik team looked to the Time Magazine’s Top Ten electric guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen to understand what happens when this rockstar destroys an instrument. The engineering challenge? The team needed to create a critical joint between the neck and the body that usually cracks on a guitar.
For the uninitiated, Malmsteen is somewhat of a legendary guitar destroyer. After seeing Jimi Hendrix smash a guitar on TV, Malmsteen took his passion for music, manifesting itself in neoclassical playing, added a little rock glam to it and the rest was history. Since the age of seven, every time Malmsteen would get a new guitar he would go out and smash the old one.
Sandvik engineers decided to completely eliminate the critical joint mentioned above to create their new unsmashable guitar. The team utilized recycled stainless steel to create both the guitar’s neck and fretboard.
The team wanted to make the guitar as light as possible to do so, the Sandvik team hollowed out the interior surfaces of the neck and fretboard, “milling down to a challenging thickness of one-millimeter in places.”
Cutting smooth arcs between the frets, this milling process allowed for Malmsteen to have better control of the guitar’s notes.
Data, 3D Printing, and Smashing
If you are going to create a fully functional guitar that looks nice and that is unbreakable, you are going to need to be precise. “Precision was critical. Our software is built on years of experience, giving tool and the cutting data recommendations..." says Henrik Loikkanen.
Before even the genesis of the guitar, Sandvik utilized its advanced software to simulate milling digitally. This allowed the Sandvik team not only to examine the correct choice of tools but help cut down on the entire manufacturing process.
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When the time had come, Sandvik used metal powder and additive manufacturing to 3D print the body. The trick and challenge were to create a very sophisticated design that is both high strength and low weight.
Specializing in this type of additive manufacturing, Sandvik was able to print the body of the guitar using a process that involves laser melting titanium powder into microscopically thin layers on top of each other, with each layer approximately 50 microns thick or thinner than a human hair.
Dubbed Powder Bed Laser Fusion, the process took a total of 56 hours, allowing for the needed complex geometries of the guitar.
Using an Isotropic Lightweight Structure from hyper-duplex steel, a grade only Sandvik produces, the material was “sandwiched between the neck and fretboard” for ultimate durability.
The Ultimate Test
When the Sandvik guitar was finally completed, it was used on stage during one of Malmsteen’s electric sets. Like a true rockstar, Malmsteen attempted to smash the guitar, flinging it against the amps, stage, structures and the floor.
To no avail, Malmsteen was not able to break the guitar, eventually blurting out. “This guitar is a beast! Sandvik is obviously on top of their game. They put the work in, they do their hours. I can relate to that. The result is amazing. I gave everything I had, but it was impossible to smash.”
Not only is this project fun and exciting, but it highlights the very disruptive nature of additive manufacturing. As mentioned before, 2019 is an exciting year for additive manufacturing, and its influence is affecting all aspects of the manufacturing process.
“Additive manufacturing lets us create lighter, stronger and more flexible components with internal structures that would be impossible to mill traditionally,” says, Amelie Norrby, an additive manufacturing engineer who participated in the guitar project.
“And it’s more sustainable because you only use the material you need for the component, minimizing waste.”
3D printing your own instruments from the comfort of your desktop may not be as far off in the future as you think.