12 Dezember 2008

Natural fibre composites to reinvigorate the music instrument manufacturing industry in Finland

Innovative new material could create 600 Karelian jobs

Natural fibre composites are especially well-suited to producing musical instruments, a craft potentially worth millions to eastern Finland. The development of new natural fibre composite materials is seen by some as having the potential to reinvigorate the long-dormant instrument manufacturing industry in Finland.

© David C. Rehner
© David C. Rehner

It is estimated that the new material could be used to produce instruments and sound-related products to the tune of around 65 million euros worth of annual turnover by 2025. These figures are based on a report issued by Joensuu Science Park which investigated the instrument manufacturing industry in North Karelia and in Finland generally.

“This new field of expertise could create jobs for around 600 people by 2025. Especially here in North Karelia where we already have a great deal of expertise in forestry, plastics and musical products,” says industrial designer Heikki Koivurova from Totaldesign, one of the people who helped carry out the study.

Natural fibre composite, or “moulded wood”, has a number of advantages when used as a material to craft instruments. For example, it never absorbs water. Nevertheless, the material’s chief advantage is that it means that the heavier, industrial parts of the manufacturing process can be substituted with injection moulding. This is significant, since a large part of crafting instruments is still carried out by hand.

“This will allow us to increase productivity tenfold in comparison to current manufacturing techniques,” explains Jyrki Peltomaa from the Joensuu Regional Development Company JOSEK Oy.

Branding challenge
With the help of natural fibre composites which bring together expertise in both wood and plastics technology, instruments can be manufactured in an environmentally friendlier manner than previously. There is no need to use wood from endangered tree types. Instead, Finland’s own pine is perfectly suitable. Combining materials to produce a natural fibre composite also yields a homogenous, consistent product.

The only obstacle to achieving a market breakthrough lies in developing a solid brand. How to convince musicians used to instruments made with more traditional materials that one can have just as high-quality a result with natural fibre composites? “As an old craftsman of wooden instruments myself, I laughed off the idea of a plastic violin. I said that if you don’t want to commit commercial suicide, at least start with a guitar,” Rauno Nieminen chuckles. Since then, however, Nieminen has seen the upsides of natural fibre composite-based products.

“Only one out of a thousand tree types yield the sort of wood suitable for producing instruments, and those trees take between 200-300 years to grow to maturity. This new material can be manufactured immediately and its properties are easily manipulated,” Nieminen points out.

Source: Helsinki Times, 2008-12-11.

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