Generative design helped Kevin Baslé, a gifted luthier, create a new manufacturing process for electric violins. The resulting method uses Autodesk Fusion 360 to design the GD Violin and combines the best parts of human craftsmanship and digital manufacturing technology, such as 3D printing for prototyping and low-cost CNC milling for the wood manufacturing.
Baslé designed and manufactured the GD Violin with the help of engineers at the Autodesk Technology Center in Birmingham, UK. Acoustic violin design has remained relatively unchanged for centuries, but electric violins have grown significantly in recent years as manufacturing technologies have matured. This allows violinists to express their own unique personality through instrument design. The most common materials for electric violins today are plastics, acrylic, and carbon fiber. Kevin wanted to return to using the material he knew best, wood, because of its warmth and character. But how was he able to balance cost and playability while creating something truly unique for his customers?
Autodesk Research Engineer Peter Storey introduced Kevin to Fusion 360 and showed him how generative design can be used for a whole new way of designing electric violins. The first step was to give the generative design algorithms constraints to work with. “We explored the bare minimum needed to make a violin work: where the standard strings and accessories attach and where the violinist would normally hold while playing. We started modeling just those parts in Fusion 360,” explains Storey.
By keeping only the essential parts, the generative design algorithm had maximum freedom to create a unique design that was as lightweight as possible. This method is also scalable – each dimension can be changed, resulting in a bespoke set of design constraints based on the preferences of the intended player.
Unlike acoustic violins, the shape and volume of an electric violin have almost no effect on the sound of the instrument, so electric violin players have near infinite license to design their violin. This quality makes electric violins and other electric instruments ideal for generative design software.
A favorite design was chosen and manufacturing began. Storey 3D printed an initial prototype at the Autodesk Technology Center in Birmingham to ensure the selected design worked perfectly before moving forward. The GD violin is a perfect combination of human craftsmanship and advanced technology. Generative design created the design from parameters defined by Storey and Baslé, but it still requires the touch of the craftsman. “While body shape has little effect on acoustics, without Kevin’s expertise it wouldn’t sound the way he does,” says Storey. The expert touch of an experienced luthier is always needed to perfect the instrument.
Storey milled the body of the violin using a 3-axis CNC machine, to prove that Baslé could use a simple desktop CNC machine to mill wood in his workshop. The combination of a powerful generative design tool, a desktop router, and an expert luthier is a completely new way to make an electric violin. This workflow bridges the gap between the lengthy handmade acoustic violin process and mass production that offers little customization for the individual player.
Fusion 360 has allowed Kevin to design without constraint, and he keeps the manufacturing cost as low as possible. Kevin says, “Fusion 360 is an important professional tool for making this violin because it’s affordable software that allows me to make a high-quality finished product and keep the price low.”