Engineers ensure harps hit the right note

October 18, 2002

A craftsman in rural Wales, UK, is developing a community business, which will create traditional harps, much more quickly and at a lower cost - thanks to engineering expertise.

Engineers in Cardiff University's award winning Manufacturing Engineering Centre (MEC) have designed a manufacturing system to mass-produce Concert and Celtic harps, without any loss of quality.

Mr Allan Shiers, founder of Harp Makers, in Llandysul, West Wales, currently produces one Concert harp and one Celtic harp per year, as well as carrying out repair work.

With grant aid from the business-support organization Help Wales and from Ceredigion County Council, he aims to create a new company, Telynau Teifi - a community business producing up to 125 Celtic harps and 15 Concert harps per year, selling at approximately 50% of the current price for hand made instruments.

More importantly the company will create highly skilled, well-paid jobs in an area that has seen its manufacturing infrastructure degenerate in the past.

To enable such a cost-effective increase in production, the MEC, based in the University's School of Engineering, carried out a manufacturing analysis, identifying areas where the production process could be automated.

Additionally a change in the materials used in the harp has shortened the manufacturing time without compromising the sound quality. Indeed, a prototype Celtic harp was played by several experienced harpists and their reaction was very positive.

"Harpists have praised the prototype Celtic harp for producing a sound which is both precise and clear at the top of the register and warm and rich in the lower register," said Dr Andrew Thomas of the MEC.

"The relatively low cost means it will also make harp-playing accessible to more families," he added.

The research carried out by the MEC will support an application by Mr Shiers for European Union "Objective One" funding, the hope being that the new company, Telynau Teifi, will become fully operational within the next two years.

The MEC, based in the University's School of Engineering, is a Welsh Development Agency-recognised Centre of Excellence and holds the Queen's Anniversary Prize and Department of Trade and Industry First Prize for its work with industry.

It is part of the School's Electrical and Electronic Engineering Division, which received a "Five" rating in the latest UK assessment of research quality, denoting work of international and national excellence.

Earlier this year, the MEC made international headlines for developing anatomically precise artificial bodies, on which surgeons would practice keyhole surgery.
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Cardiff University

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