UCLA Chapter of 3D4E to Provide 3D Printed Ukeleles for Disadvantaged Children

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The inseparable nature of art and science is continually demonstrated through 3D printing, from the creation of sculptures in which an innate understanding of the material and process of 3D printing is not only required but celebrated, to the creation of unique musical instruments to play ethereal pieces of modern music. Sometimes, though, it’s important to recognize that even in the kind of everyday projects that 3D printing does so well, there is a marriage of art and science. Such is the case in a project being undertaken by the UCLA chapter of 3D Printing for Everyone (3D4E), an national organization with an emphasis on helping its members advance their knowledge of 3D printing. Three members of the club, third-year mechanical engineering students Joey Meurer and Ryan Poon, and third-year physics student Sam Celentano, decided to take on a project producing 3D printed ukeleles for children at Maryvale in Rosemead.

Maryvale was founded 162 years ago in response to the lack of resources for orphaned and abandoned children in Los Angeles. Children without families to care for them were forced to live in the street, relying entirely upon their own wits and the kindness of strangers. Upon becoming aware of the problem, the Daughters of Charity, a Catholic organization established in 1633 to serve the poorest of the poor, sent five of their members to found the first orphanage in Los Angeles. Since that time, the organization has continued to change and evolve and continues to serve the needs of families and children through residential programs, an emergency placement center, mental health services, and the provision of other much needed resources.

The three students hope to provide a 3D printed ukelele for every child at Maryvale not only as an object for enjoyment, but as a way of interesting the young people in STEM. In order to do this, they have begun a fundraising campaign, which will end March 5, through which they hope to raise $10,000 for their project. It’s more than just a novelty, but rather a hook to being ready for the way the world operates, as group treasurer Bhav Patel, a second-year student in aerospace engineering described:

“We want to start to get these kids really involved (with) STEM. It can apply and branch out to every single thing that you can see around you.”

Joey Meurer, a third-year mechanical engineering student, Sam Celentano, a third-year physics student, and Ryan Poon, a third-year mechanical engineering student (left to right) worked with UCLA’s chapter of the 3-D Printing For Everyone club to design 3D-printed ukuleles, which it plans to donate to underprivileged children. [Image: Amy Dixon/Daily Bruin]

“One day, 3D printing may be applied to every field…and that’s what we’re trying to show to the children at (Maryvale),” added Poon.

But before they were ready to ask for money, they first had to learn how to create ukeleles. They began, as all of us do these days, with a search on the internet. However, it wasn’t as easy as ‘find ukelele model, download, and print’ – the models they encountered each had flaws that required careful study and attention. After additional research and a large number of prototyping efforts, twelve in total, the group finally developed the right design.

The 3D print bed on the printers available to the team was not large enough to print the entire ukelele in one go, so they designed the instrument to be printed in four pieces: head, neck, top of the base, and bottom of the base. The individual pieces slot together and are fixed in their places using superglue. They used PLA to create the final product. Despite the fact that 3D printing is a relatively rapid process, it still takes up to nine hours to print each component. The biggest advantage to using 3D printing may come in the level of precision that is possible through the technology, as Meurer explained:

“Things have to be perfect or you’ll be able to tell. The distance between every fret on the fret board is down to the tenth of a millimeter precision.”

That’s the difference between a nice sounding instrument and a horrifying cacophony. The only parts of the instrument that aren’t 3D printed are the strings and the pegs as plastic pegs can’t hold the strings at the right tension, and the strings themselves are made out of a material and in a way that, so far, cannot be replicated on a 3D printer.

The point of the project is not to just hand the children a completed ukelele, but also to talk to them about the process of discovery that the folks at the UCLA 3D4E undertook as they were creating. From varying the shape of the instrument, to understanding the physics of the acoustics, the project is about much more than just learning to make an instrument. It’s about understanding the way in which variables affect production and performance, as well as what kinds of questions need to be asked when setting about to create. Helping disadvantaged children take advantage of these tools is just one part of making a profound difference through 3D printing.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below. 

[Source: Daily Bruin]



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