Designing a Unique Self-playing Piano

We managed this project, working with a 3rd party manufacturer and designing various components for this unique self-playing piano.

Client

Anonymous

Disciplines

Software

Autodesk Inventor and others

The Curve Piano

The Company was approached by a new client, we had been recommended to them from one of our existing clients. They had prepared a 3D CGI model of a stylish custom shell into which a self-playing piano was to be installed and secured.

MedTec were provided with the CGI concept and basic surfaces in which we had to modify and stich together to create a solid mould of a stylish custom shell into which a self-playing piano was to be installed and secured. 

We then investigated whether the body kit was manufacturable and if not, what modifications would be necessitated while retaining the kit’s curved aesthetics. 

Self-playing pianos contain electrical infrastructure and audio-visual devices and therefore it was imperative for the body kit to enable unfettered access to switches, dials, and to the strings and pins underneath the lid for tuning.

As such, the development of a custom body kit for a self-playing piano is considerably more challenging than for conventional instruments and due to their rarity, there was limited knowledge or guidance with which to inform the development.

MedTec were required to deduce how the body kit could be effectively modularised to fit accurately around the grand piano and whether access panels could be incorporated without compromising the style and aesthetics of the solution. Not having worked on anything like this previous we had limited available technical knowledge to draw from, but we love a challenge! And we were fully aware that, in achieving the desired outcome, we would be required to overcome several technical uncertainties. 

We started by taking the primitive CGI body kit design and created a digital representation in Autodesk Inventor, this is the software package we use daily. This representation was to act as a basis on which subsequent modifications would be implemented. Using our 3D CAD package, we were able to use he provided surfaces to modify and ensure that the said surfaces fitted around the original piano. The next stage was to create a solid form. The solid model was then sent off so we could have some hard foam plugs made.

Designing a new body kit was very challenging as space was heavily restricted and opportunities to incorporate access panels to switches and dials were inconspicuous. The body kit was rescaled many times to ensure that it closely conformed to the piano shape and the curve and access panel designs were repetitively adjusted to mitigate negative modelling results. Designing the body kit sections was facilitated by obtaining a real grand piano and cutting it into sections to explore the efficacy of different design treatments.

We worked extremely closely with a 3rd party manufacturer, a company that we had a long history with to develop a custom mould inside which the modular sections were subsequently manufactured out of glass reinforced plastic (GRP). 

The GRP body sections were then bonded together, and the cut piano sections were installed inside the body kit and bolted together before a top skin was incorporated. 

Upon evaluation, we felt that the surface stitching quality fell short of expectations and a subsequent phase of redesign and remodelling ensued to enhance the surface finish. 

Finite element analysis (FEA) was performed which is a computerised method for predicting the how body kit might react to real-world forces, vibration, heat, and other physical effects. The FEA enabled us to assess the kit’s strength and its centre of gravity both with and without the ‘signature’ curve, leading to the implementation of design adjustments to augment the weight distribution.

We determined that the piano’s original feet were unsuitable to support the 500kg total weight. In response, the development of 2 custom ‘formers’ was attempted which were essentially wider feet optimised to spread the weight over a larger surface area, thus realising enhanced stability and better protecting the floor surface. 

Several performance and usability issues were highlighted in later testing that required mitigative action, for example access panel size, shape, and location were refined to optimise access to the piano’s switches and electronics. 

Throughout this project, we remained in continual liaison with the 3rd party manufacturer and client to provide real time support in the realisation of an optimal solution that is capable of being manufactured both efficiently and in line with project requirements.

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