Revolutionizing Instrument Design: Finland’s Largest Organ Pipes Crafted Through 3D Printing

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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.

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.

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, assembled, disassembled, and then 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 assists in reducing the weight of the parts to a minimum, manufactured without molds, and exhibiting wood-like post-processing.

It’s noteworthy to mention that while these pipes are an engaging part of the organ’s design, they harmoniously integrate with the organ’s internal pipes to yield a symphony of music. The organ boasts a remarkable 124 sound registers and a total of 260 meters of sound-producing pipes and wind lines, making it not only the largest in Finland and Scandinavia but also one of the largest in Europe and the biggest modern organ in a concert hall worldwide.

The historical journey of organ pipes extends beyond the astonishing realm of 3D printed facade pipes. These conventional elements of sound production possess a historical depth that spans over a thousand years. Originally crafted from wood or metal, organ pipes are meticulously shaped using traditional techniques handed down through generations. These very pipes connect the archaic art of organ building with modern 3D printing technology and materials, bringing about an instrument that combines centuries-old proficiency with contemporary advancement.

A Harmonious Symphony of Cooperation

In this project, sustainability and music merge in perfect harmony. The use of biocomposite, composed of fine cellulose fibers, is superb for large-scale 3D printing as well as being 100% recyclable, positioning the organ as extremely environmentally friendly. The acoustic qualities of the material improve the organ’s sound, providing a deep, enveloping auditory experience.

Rieger Orgelbau, boasting nearly 150 years of organ history, distinguishes its latest concert hall organ as “spectacular.” The manufacturer describes how situated in front of the general swell – an almost indispensable feature in a concert hall standing at 14 meters high on two distributed cubes – sits a sculpture composed of numerous interlocking pipes, all playable. Furthermore, the organ maker categorizes this particular instrument as “unique” regarding its sound. Boasting 124 stops on four manuals and pedals, it assures a “rich variety of tonal hues that will suffice the desire for genuine stylistic diversity.”

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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