Aug 15, 2023

Making rhythm: Students pair with guild to craft drums

May 15, 2023

Mirror photo by Cati KeithSam Thurau, owner of Haggerty Hollow Guild of Hollidaysburg, sands musical drums at his workshop. Penn State Altoona students will spend their summer building a robot to help speed up manufacturing and increase output.

A group of Penn State Altoona students have paired up with Haggerty Hollow Guild of Hollidaysburg to build a robot the musical drum maker can use to speed up manufacturing and increase output.

The project, put together by Craig Brennecke, engineering professor, and Sam Thurau, owner of Haggerty Hollow, recently received a $64,361 grant from Manufacturing PA's fellowship program.

Electromechanical engineering technology students will spend their summer working to build the machine, Brennecke said.

"This will be a great opportunity to get some real hands-on experience creating something for a local business," he said.

In addition, the students will get paid for their work and it will count as their senior capstone project.

Mirror photo by Cati KeithSam Thurau, owner of Haggerty Hollow Guild of Hollidaysburg, prepares wood to be made into musical drums at his workshop. He is in the process of renovating a building in downtown Hollidaysburg.

The fellowship program pairs graduate and undergraduate students with local manufacturers on research projects to develop new technologies and advance innovation statewide.

Thurau said he learned about a grant available to create the robot needed for his business and applied for it about six months ago.

Getting the grant is definitely a feel-good moment, he said.

"It is the best part of my year — I’m just a guy building instruments so I never thought I would have the chance to get something like this," Thurau said, explaining he's a drummer himself, and now makes staved drums as a side gig along with his full-time job as an electrician at Penelec.

When finished, the robot will be a custom designed CNC mill with a special cutting tool to allow the milling of large drums.

"The drums my company makes are like wine barrels with high quality hardwood," Thurau said, adding he will help guide the students through the project.

Work to build the machine is expected to get underway by mid-May and the project is expected to be complete in December.

Haggerty Hollow has manufactured custom drums since 1987, using hardwoods instead of plywood.

"Solid shell cylinders produce a more dimensionally stable cylinder that produces a better sound," Thurau said.

Currently, producing the drum shells is a limiting factor, but with a robot, the production time can decrease while precision increases.

Thurau said drum shells are made up of individual planks of wood, beveled on the edges at a precise angle, and then joined into a 20- or 30-sided polygon.

One of the most difficult parts of the manufacturing process of these solid-wood drum shells is shaping the polygon into a perfect cylinder, he said, because the drumheads (skins) need to fit properly to produce the correct sound.

Hand-turning the piece on a wood lathe is a labor intensive and somewhat dangerous job that requires very specialized labor, Thurau said. The other alternative is cutting the cylinder on a computer numerical control router that runs on computer-aided design models for each product.

While the CNC route is easier and more economical, using it limits the size of the drum — currently 8 inches in diameter.

Pairing up with students to put what they learned to use in a real-world application will provide the business with a robotic CNC milling machine uniquely suited to meet the specialized demand.

In general, the students will incorporate a 3-axis CNC router and fabricate a spindle that will be about 20 inches long.

The new design will allow the company to machine any depth and diameter drum shell with one machine.

Changing from one size of drum shell to another will be as simple as opening a different computer code file and sending it to the machine to run, Brennecke said.

This machine will require a large amount of design, engineering and testing to be successful, tasks a team of students is well-suited to help execute, he said.

"PSU-Altoona engineering faculty and students will help HHG grow by designing and producing a superior CNC mill that will be more flexible, programmable, faster and less expensive than HHG's current milling process," said Corey Gracie-Griffin, associate dean of research at Penn State Altoona.

With Thurau doing everything by himself in his home garage, the addition of the new machine will allow him to create each drum faster and more efficiently.

He is in the process of renovating a building in downtown Hollidaysburg and moving there will give him more space to work once completed.

"Local students will have an exceptional and practical hands-on capstone project," he said. "This will benefit Blair County through economic growth and building the local talent to sustain continued revitalization of manufacturing in rural PA."

Mirror Staff Writer Cati Keith can be reached at 814-946-7535.

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