For several years, Vienna International, Inc. has been an ardent supporter of the only graduate level piano technology degree in the United States. This program is overseen by a visionary piano professional and academic, Prof. Anne Garee, at Florida State University. Every year two outstanding students are accepted into the program and as part of their capstone course they are given the opportunity to spend some weeks overseas at a piano factory. This year the two graduate piano technology students are Sharon M. and Katherine R. And for their final course they went on an apprentice / training session to one of the most important piano factories in Asia: Hailun Piano Co.
From Kate: Saturday, December 17, 2011
In Zhejiang province, the Hailun Piano factory hums with activity. Making quality instruments is everyone's business here. As we followed our liaison, Jack, through the factory departments, Hailun employees smiled and answered questions about what they were doing. They didn't seem to mind when we lingered for a while watching them work, or took notes and photographs.
One of the first things we saw was a demonstration of the HLPS-1 System in the grand piano finishing department. With the HLPS-1 System, the grand piano lid can be lifted easily with one finger! It has a slow fall mechanism that prevents the lids from slamming shut. Two employees were installing the system when we approached their station. With Jack as our interpreter, we discussed the calibration of the pistons, consumer expectations, and the reliability of the HLP System. When we returned the next day to see the final result, the employees invited us try out the system several times, and showed us how the lid of concert instruments can be removed easily for performance.
From Sharon: Sunday, December 20, 2011
One of the highlights of our tour around the Hailun facility was being able to witness a soundboard press set up. There is only one grand soundboard set up for pressing every 12 hours, which is done within a climate-controlled room in a corner of the factory. There are two common ways to press a soundboard: a) attaching radial ribs (which describe the curvature of the long pieces of wood attached to the bottom of the soundboard), and b) a compression crown method (which involves pressing the soundboard itself into a shallow dish), or a combination of both. According to our guide at Hailun, they use a combination, pressing the soundboard into its home using “go bars”, in other words, against the overhang above the soundboard itself using flexible wooden bars once the ribs and bridges are glued on. As our guide, Jack, put it, “...[the soundboard] is the heart of the piano”. Hailun makes soundboards out of spruce, sourced from both Russia and Austria. The crown that is put on the board during this process affects an important aspect of piano manufacture called “down-bearing” among others, which in turn affects the overall tone and projection of the piano. At the Hailun facility, soundboard pressing is done slowly and with care, as it is recognized as one of the most important processes in the factory.
From Kate: Monday, December 21, 2011
A single piano is made from many parts, but where these parts come from, and who makes them is not always transparent. Because the Hailun Piano Company is operating at capacity in their current factory, case parts, actions, and keyboards are made to their specifications at facilities nearby. In addition to the main factory, we traveled off-site to tour these places during our trip to Ningbo.
An improved music desk was the order of business on the day we visited the upright case factory. We accompanied the upright piano manager--her design sheets in hand--a quality control technician, and our liaison, Jack, on the 20 minute drive to the facility. It's easy to share information electronically these days, but when it comes to building better pianos, employees at Hailun prefer meeting face to face.
On our drive back, we stopped by the site of the new factory, which will open in 2012. It has approximately 800 thousand square feet of production floor space, and will help the company meet the growing demand for Hailun pianos in markets world wide.