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High-strength Maezio™ could protect musical instruments against perils of flying

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When priceless instruments travel, they need reliable protection. Carbon fiber is the state-of-the-art choice for instrument cases. But now it could get even better thanks to a new class of thermoplastic composite solutions known as Maezio™.

Even for the most experienced musicians, new cities and stages are full of unknowns. Whether it’s a loose cable on set, a hurriedly packed van or simply a moment of distraction, accidents are lurking around every corner. When a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind piece is destroyed, the entire music world suffers. Which makes protecting prized instruments all the more essential. Hard-shell cases are usually the preferred option. However, they can be heavy, expensive, and impossible to recycle. Now, a new generation of thermoplastic composites could become the one solution that checks all the boxes.
Risky business: Musical instruments and air travel

Professional musicians are expert travelers, perhaps because they travel for two. On flights, larger instruments present special challenges. The Strad advises bass and cello players to review airline policies carefully, book two seats well in advance, and allow extra time for checking in and boarding. The experts also encourage musicians to exude confidence when boarding a flight with a large instrument. That includes having two tickets clearly visible and immediately requesting a seatbelt extender.

But extenuating circumstances, like small planes or overbooked flights can make storage in the cargo hold unavoidable. In a recent case, extensive damage to a 300-year-old viola da gamba on a flight caused seasoned experts to doubt whether the year-long restoration process required to repair the broken instrument would be worth the expense. Thankfully, the instrument belonging to Brazilian born Israeli musician Myrna Herzog re-emerged one year later, fully restored and with new performance dates on the books.

Extra-strong custom-made flight cases are one way to lessen the impact of baggage loading and unloading on flights. Bespoke cases are available in plastic, metal and wood versions, which tend to be heavy when manufactured to the required thickness. Custom production is also expensive. Hard-shell plastic (or fiberglass) cases are more efficient to produce, but still heavy. Composites, on the other hand, present one of the most promising solutions for the music industry by providing excellent strength coupled with much less weight.
Composites: Giving consumers the best of both worlds

Composites are hybrids that combine the properties of two or more materials – a fiber and a connective matrix – to create an entirely new product. Some composites rely on carbon fiber – a material that is no newcomer to music. Challenges like outdoor festivals and weddings motivated guitar maker Rainsong to create carbon fiber bodies in the early 1980s. The luthiers at McPherson use carbon to reinforce the necks on their entire range. Notable musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma, have appeared on stage with instruments made from the jet-black material. In other words, carbon has arrived in the music industry and can be found in everything from bows and fiddles to guitars and cellos. The premium fiber joins a long line of exquisite materials, from ebony to mother of pearl, valued by instrument builders in their craft for centuries. The lustrous and rich beauty of organic carbon is a natural complement to the age-old pursuit of remarkable sound.

Carbon fiber shells are currently considered one of the strongest options for instrument cases on the market. But epoxy-based thermoset versions are difficult to scale and recycle. Now, a new generation of composites is poised to enable significant improvements in both price and performance.

Every new material development is a source of innovation for us as designers – especially if we can get rid of weight and thickness. Then we have a lot of chances to create new form factors.

Thorsten Frackenpohl

Co-Founder and Managing Director, Noto GmbH

Spotlight on Maezio™: a promising solution for high-performance, scalable, sustainable instrument cases

Maezio™ is a new generation of continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (CFRTP) composites developed by Covestro engineers. They combine carbon fiber and a thermoplastic matrix like polycarbonate. Maezio™ composites are available as a unidirectional (UD) tape that is adjustable both in terms of fiber content and type. Ultra-thin UD tape can also be laminated together at different angles to form sheets tuned to a specific performance objective such as superior stiffness or strength.

For instrument cases, Maezio™ could be tuned to offer a higher specific strength than aluminum, for example. In fact, Maezio™ composites are 40 percent lighter, 2.5 stiffer and six times stronger than aluminum (7020), for exceptional performance and greater ease of travel. The strength of these composites makes them impervious to volatile swings in temperature or humidity and resistant to dents, scratches and cracks – for a case that would be virtually indestructible and withstand many of the rigors of air travel.

High-performance Maezio™ thermoplastic composites are manufactured with short cycle times, making them scalable for mass production. As an added bonus for eco-conscious consumers, thermoplastic composites support recycling: at the end of their life, they can be reground and used in an injection molding process to raw materials for new products.

These laminates look and sound like metal, but have all the flexibility of a thermoplastic material – giving case makers and designers all the latitude they need to realize creative ideas. Unique surface effects such as herringbone or honeycomb patterns or cases with a woven look are easy to achieve. Maezio™ composites are compatible with a wide range of coatings as well as embossing techniques and laser etching.
The intelligently crafted case of the future

Not every accident happens in flight. The infamous example of the $20 million Stradivarius cello in Spain that fell off a table during an official photo shoot is a case in point. But for many accidents waiting to happen, high-tech cases and materials can help consumers be prepared. And a strong, lightweight, recyclable, affordable and aesthetic instrument case would truly be a pleasure to own, so that someday, musicians could start to love their cases almost as much as what’s inside.

For large volume requirements, our customers need a product that enables efficient processing and short cycle times. Maezio™ does this and also offers significant benefits over magnesium alloys, thermoset plastics and injection molded plastics.

Yilan Li

Market Development Composites, Covestro

Key benefits

  • Significant weight reduction combined with mechanical strength 
  • Enables thinner designs 
  • High productivity with short cycle times 
  • Low VOC emissions 
  • Excellent surface quality and options for coating, embossing and laser-etched surfaces 
  • Premium aesthetics of carbon 

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