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The Great Recovery | Notre Dame University

The grain structure of a ConnSelmer brass trumpet.
A man with long hair and a beard looks at computer screens in a laboratory.
Karl Cronberger, electron microprobe technician, performs elemental analysis of ConnSelmer brass.

It turned out that the brass alloys used in the different horns were quite similar. It was a good sign.

Still, close inspection revealed some subtle differences that might explain the variations in sound. Identifying these slight deviations in everything from thickness to grain structure will help ConnSelmer convey some of the desired characteristics of the vintage instrument to its modern counterparts. The exercise is part of a larger ConnSelmer corporate initiative called ConnSonic, which combines historic recovery with modern manufacturing and fabrication.

A male student sits with his trumpet resting on his knee on a stage.

Video: How a trumpet produces sound

“We delivered these results pretty quickly in initial testing,” Shoemaker said. “[The partnership] really snowballed into other projects to include shop floor analysis, materials testing, and that turned into R&D testing for future products.

In every aspect of the partnership, iNDustry Labs and ConnSelmer seek to maintain a legacy brand identity while finding ways to become more resilient for the future of manufacturing. Perhaps no project in the collaboration illustrates this dynamic more poignantly than the process known as the bell.

Bell spinning is an integral part of the horn making process. It is, without hyperbole, an art form. Spinners must perform a series of manual tasks to create the characteristic shape of each instrument. This includes using a lathe to smooth the material and remove excess, folding a seam, inserting stabilizer wire, and rolling the fringe to the end of the implement. Not surprisingly, the job requires extremely specialized knowledge that can only be acquired through experience. Only a handful of operators can do this demanding job, and some of them at ConnSelmer learned it from a family member who held the job before them. Training a new bell turner can take up to six months, but the aforementioned boom in Elkhart’s RV industry makes it difficult to find qualified candidates for the job. And more job openings for this position may soon become available: many Bells are nearing retirement.

Bell spinning is where a bell is formed into its final shape. The bell takes the form of pressing the chuck with the harpoon-like tool.

ConnSelmer and iNDustry Labs are investigating non-traditional solutions to address the issue. The exact results are still being developed, but the end result could be a combination of a never-before-seen application of artificial intelligence technology and in-house component manufacturing. This would provide more consistency in the product and a development opportunity for current and new employees, and would help ConnSelmer protect certain trade secrets related to the process.

Innovations in wind instruments are also explored. ConnSelmer and iNDustry Labs are collaborating on a wood treatment system used to make clarinets, protecting them from the wild variations in humidity and temperature experienced across the country. Tests at Notre Dame facilities have shown the system to be effective. This is another example of how the iNDustry Labs model can be helpful, giving industries in the region access to resources they may only need for a specific project or time period.

“I think iNDustry Labs has the opportunity to have a real impact on this region. In this time when we have to think about the future and how manufacturing will change. —Michael Shoemaker

“It’s complicated to have all the tools you need to stay on top,” Zapf said. “Maybe you need [equipment] for five days and I don’t really feel like going out and spending the money to buy it because it will take years to recoup that investment.

“Our product managers…know what they want to do, but allowing us to get there faster allows us to stay more competitive in what is a very global market and continue to produce here rather than offshore everything and look for a lower price. Cost.”

The ConnSelmer/iNDustry Labs partnership extends to other areas related to production processes and materials testing. For a business built on innovation, projects are a natural fit for ConnSelmer. Yet it is clear that the relationship is mutually beneficial. Notre Dame College of Engineering students who enrolled in an applied learning course during the fall 2021 semester helped create a robust database to track ConnSelmer instruments. The following spring, a course on spectrographic analysis allowed students to learn about the characterization of materials and the testing of instruments. These types of experiential learning opportunities give students an idea of ​​how classroom theory can translate into a real-world setting with real stakeholders.

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