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3D Printed Clamp Helps Iowa State University Marching Band Waste Less Paper


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Many people these days are doing their best to cut back on unsustainable practices, such as single-use plastic, powder waste in the AM industry, and wasting paper, in support of a greener, more circular economy. Every little bit helps in the ongoing fight for our planet, and a US university marching band director was trying to think of ways to use less paper. Reaching out to one of his students, an innovative solution was formed, and 3D printing was used to help turn the idea into reality.

Musicians obviously use A LOT of paper for their music, but marching band members also typically use paper to learn their shows with something called a drill book. Having been in marching band myself for six years, let me explain. Those choreographed patterns and moves you see on the football field during a marching band show are not easy—once a show has been written, it’s put into drill charts for the musicians and other participants, like color guard members, to learn. Everyone gets their own position, often denoted with a number, and you go through each drill sheet to find your coordinates for the entire show.

Iowa State University Marching Band

The point is to memorize your coordinates for the show as fast as possible, which is why participants carry their drill books with them on the field during practice. I remember how much paper I used making my drill books—I would first print out the entire drill chart, which could be anywhere between 50-100 pages, and then go through every page and mark my position with a highlighter. Then, I’d cut that small section of paper out and glue each one onto a page in one of those spiral bound index card books. I’d wear the whole thing around my neck with a lanyard until my drill was memorized, and at the end of the season, I’d throw it away. So that’s a lot of wasted paper.

Last summer, Christian Carichner, Associate Director of Bands and Director of the Cyclone Marching Band at Iowa State University, reached out to Jack Evans, a graduate student majoring in administrative business and mechanical engineering who just so happens to play sousaphone in the marching band, with a project idea. Carichner wanted the marching band to use less paper, and, thinking specifically of drill books and music, wondered if Evans could help him figure out a way to execute this initiative. Evans was more than happy to help, and began looking at and adjusting 3D printed phone clamp designs.

Evans said, “Iowa State, especially the marching band and Mr. Carichner, are trying to push innovation.”

The idea was a 3D printed cell phone clamp that would attach to an instrument lyre—a different type of clamp that’s used to hold music and attaches to the instrument itself, unless you play flute like I did and have to strap it around your lower arm. But instead of paper music, this clamp would hold a musician’s phone, so they could see their drill sheets and music without having to print so much paper.

Trumpet music lyre from Amazon.

Once Evans settled on a design, he fabricated about 250 clamps in the university’s 3D printing labs, which took about 1,200 hours of printing overall. Then, at the beginning of this year’s marching season, each band member received one of the 3D printed clamps at no cost.

This is my personal opinion only, but I don’t think this idea would work for music; unless you had a large cell phone, I think the notes would be really hard to read. But I bet it would absolutely help with drill charts as the marching band learns its shows.

An Iowa State marching band member designed and crafted hundreds of 3D printed clamps to help the band read sheet music on their phones. Image courtesy of Mackenzie Bodell/Iowa State Daily.

While he was not compensated, Evans said he enjoyed the project, as it “was a fun and innovative way” to give back to the ISU band program. It was also a great innovation opportunity for someone looking to start a career in mechanical engineering, and he’s already working to improve upon his initial clamp. The goal is to eventually use plastic injection molding to make the clamps, which could potentially be stronger and cost less to make. The idea has a lot of potential, and just think how much paper could be saved if marching bands everywhere used these clamps!

Evans explained, “I want it to be affordable for every band, no matter what age, or whether you’re in marching band or concert band.”

This isn’t the first time 3D printing has been used to make musical instrument accessories, and I’m betting it certainly won’t be the last.

(Source: Iowa State Daily / Images: Iowa State University Marching Band Facebook, unless otherwise noted)

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