A New Tune in Instrument Design: 3D Printing Creates Finland’s Largest Organ Pipes


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In the heart of Helsinki, a groundbreaking musical innovation is set to charm audiences. Opened in 2011, the Helsinki Music Centre, known for its striking modern architecture and innovative musical scene, has unveiled a modern marvel in the organ music scene. On January 1, 2024, the center’s new organ debuted in a grand celebratory concert led by French organist Olivier Latrys, boasting the world’s first-ever 3D printed biocomposite pipes.

Organist Olivier Latrys’ first rehearsal for the inaugural concert of the new Rieger organ at Helsinki Music Centre. Image courtesy of Rieger Orgelbau

Crafted from UPM Formi 3D, a wood-based biocomposite developed by the Finnish paper and forest product manufacturing company UPM (Nasdaq Helsinki: UPM), these playable facade pipes represent the fusion of traditional craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology. UPM Formi 3D is known for its exceptional attributes, including wood-based cellulose fibers that enhance functionality. This “drop-in” material is not only easy to work with but also boasts high-definition production capabilities and wood-like post-processing properties. Sourced from PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification)-certified sustainably managed forests, it aligns with eco-friendly practices and is suitable for various applications.

UPM Formi 3D granules. Image courtesy of UPM.

Melody in 3D

Created in Finland, the biocomposite material traveled to the Spanish city of Burgos for the 3D printing process. The final stop was organ builder Rieger Orgelbau in Austria, where the organ was handcrafted and assembled, then disassembled, and shipped back to Helsinki for its final reconstruction in the Music Centre’s concert hall.

Some of these pipes reach heights of 14 meters, enhancing the organ’s visual appeal and contributing to its melodic capabilities. Due to the exceptional size and precision required for this task, the company likely used large-scale additive manufacturing (LSAM), which also helps reduce the weight of the parts to a minimum, manufactured without molds, and has wood-like post-processing.

It’s important to note that while these pipes are a captivating part of the organ’s design, they harmoniously blend with the organ’s internal pipes to produce a symphony of music. The organ boasts an impressive 124 sound registers and a total of 260 meters of sounding pipes and wind lines, making it not only the largest in Finland and Scandinavia but also among the largest in Europe and the largest modern organ in a concert hall worldwide.

However, the journey of organ pipes reaches far beyond the marvel of playable 3D printed facade pipes. These traditional sound-producing elements have a rich history dating back over a millennium. Traditionally crafted from materials like metal or wood, organ pipes are shaped and honed using time-honored techniques passed down through generations. It’s these pipes that bridge the ancient art of organ construction with the latest in 3D printing hardware and materials, culminating in an instrument that harmonizes centuries of craftsmanship with modern innovation.

Symphony of Collaboration

Sustainability and music harmoniously blend in this project. The biocomposite, featuring fine cellulose fibers, is not only ideal for large-scale 3D printing but is also 100% recyclable, making the organ super eco-friendly. The material’s acoustic properties enhance the organ’s sound quality, offering a rich, immersive auditory experience.

With nearly 150 years of organ history, Rieger Orgelbau describes its latest concert hall organ as “spectacular,” stating that in front of the general swell, which is almost indispensable for a concert hall and which projects 14 m high into the hall on two recessed cubes, there is a sculpture made of numerous intertwined pipes, all of which are playable. Furthermore, the organ manufacturer describes this piece as “special” in terms of sound, with 124 stops on four manuals and pedals that ensure an “extremely rich palette of tonal colors that will meet the demand for authentic stylistic versatility.”

Rieger organ at Helsinki Music Centre Foundation. Image courtesy of Rieger Orgelbau

Grand Debut

“The organ sounds magnificent. It’s wonderful to open the concert hall to the public and enjoy both the music and the visual experience that our new organ and performers will provide starting in January,” says Kaisa Näreranta, Executive Director of the Helsinki Music Centre Foundation and Project Manager of the Organ project.

The Helsinki Music Centre Foundation initiated a naming campaign for the organ pipes, raising funds for organ music-producing organ programs and events. UPM contributed to the campaign through its Biofore Share and Care program.

“At UPM, we have a long tradition of supporting the arts, and we wanted to participate in the Helsinki Music Centre Foundation’s donation campaign. We have named all the fantastic facade pipes of the organ,” concluded Hanna Maula, UPM’s Vice President of Communication and Brand.

UPM’s role in this project aligns with its broader vision of innovating for a future beyond fossils. With operations spanning various sectors such as UPM Fibres, UPM Energy, and UPM Specialty Papers, the company emphasizes responsible solutions and a commitment to minimizing climate change, as reflected in its support for the United Nations‘ goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As the Helsinki Music Centre prepares to welcome audiences to this sonic and visual spectacle, the organ stands as a symbol of what can be achieved when art, technology, and environmental responsibility come together, echoing the possibilities of a sustainable future in music and beyond.

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