Making It: Case grads print violins from plastic as 3D Music
Makers: Matthew Canel, co-founder and engineer and Ben Kaufman, co-founder and business developer
Business: 3D Music, a Cleveland-based startup that developed 3D-printed violins
You’re both graduates of Case Western Reserve University. What’s your educational background?
Ben: I graduated from Case with a degree in computer engineering in 2012 and then a degree in management in 2013. I’ve stuck around the area, helping out with various startups.
Matthew: I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and technical theater in 2020, and a master’s in mechanical engineering in 2021.
3D Music co-founder and engineer Matthew Canel tests the sound on one of the company's plastic violins. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
How did you get the idea for the violins?
Matthew: Actually, this started out as a summer project for course credit. I needed a senior project, and I asked my advisor and it sort of came up that a design project would be good. And I used to play the cello, and obviously cellos are a bit big to start 3D printing. So starting with a violin was a little bit more reasonable. From there, I went through the course of my master’s and developed the 1/4 size, which was, in the end, my thesis. After I graduated, I started developing the other sizes and hope to eventually move on to other instruments as well.
A 1/4 size violin takes about a day-and-a-half to print, while a full size violin takes about two days. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
What was the reception for the idea of 3D-printed violins at CWRU and among your peers?
Ben: Our biggest problem with this is that no one believes it until they can physically touch it. And when COVID hit was right around when we were about to launch for the first time with our previous prototype. When we went to CES in 2020, everyone loved it. We were just about to start selling, and then COVID hit, so we couldn't do in-person demos. We couldn't travel, we couldn't do anything. So we decided to shelve it and just focus on truly refining the product. And now that is our biggest reception: people who hear it, love it. People who just hear the idea, don't believe it.
3D Music co-founder and business developer Ben Kaufman monitors one of the 3D printers, located inside the Sears [think]box building at Case Western Reserve University. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
How did you go about getting the sound quality of your violins to match with the sound of a traditional violin?
Matthew: It started with, you know, let's make it the general shape, accounting for the fact it's plastic, so it'll resonate differently. From there, we actually approached a local luthier, Max Morgan, who makes wooden instruments, and he was able to help us quite a bit with the sound profile, with how to fix issues we encountered. And he is actually still helping us oversee the quality control, the sound quality, everything to make it sound as good as possible to this day.
Maxwell Morgan, luthier and owner of Maxwell's Restorations in Cleveland Heights, stands with a 3D Music violin. [3D Music LLC]
You’ve done lots of testing and making tweaks to your product. What comes next?
Ben: We're going to reach a point where we actually freeze development on these instruments and that will be our product. Then we'll start doing more refinement, and that'll probably be a second version that would be two to three years later. Because at some point, we're going to want to lock these down so that we're not selling a constantly changing product. We're going to reach what the schools want, what the students need, what the kids want to play, and then we'll freeze development there and then move on to a different instrument while doing some small revisions here and there as needed for either scalability, playability or more likely, we'll be getting some long-term reliability data and we'll take that to account as we do our next round of changes.
A colorful array of violins on display. [3D Music LLC]
3D Music currently operates out of Sears think[box] at CWRU. What is it, exactly?
Matthew: think[box] is the maker’s space and innovation center at Case Western Reserve University. It’s a 50,000 square-foot, seven story building, and it’s designed to simulate the innovation process. So the first floor is for community, the second floor is for collaboration, then you go to prototyping on third, fabrication on fourth, project development on fifth, entrepreneurship on sixth and seventh is the incubator floor. When I started out, I got a student project fund grant … and that’s something Case offers for students who want to pursue a project. They’re also very helpful in helping you find what you need. So if you need help with media, if you need help with funding, part of being on the incubator floor is support from the think[box] team to help the startup with whatever they may need.