Design Portfolio


Our team consists of 4 members: Haley Ellis, Lizzy Taylor, Richard Zarnoch, and Greg Piedmont. We decided to enter into AICC’s Student Design Competition category two: Corrugated as Art. We began work on this project at the beginning of the semester as part of a series of projects to be completed for a class. We decided to design and build a full-scale, functioning baby grand piano. We realized this project would present unique challenges due to its scale and complexity. In staying true to the spirit of the competition, we made this piano almost exclusively out of corrugated, using other materials only as needed for structural support.

Our original plans were to create a complete replica of a piano out of corrugated. We quickly realized after speaking with industry professionals this would not be feasible due to the immense pressure from the strings inside a piano; a corrugated piano would not be able to stand up to these forces. Therefore, we compromised and decided to build one that appeared as close as possible to a real piano, but use an electronic keyboard as the keys so that it could still play music.


The inspiration to create this piano came from several sources. There are many corrugated art pieces displayed in the lobby of one of our packaging buildings, which gave us ideas about the possibilities we could explore in creating a unique and fun project made from a corrugated medium. We saw ideas such as corrugated furniture, a functioning grandfather clock, and also last years winning entry, “Atlas of the Packaging World.”

The idea of creating something that had interactive or functional parts appealed to us, but we also wanted to make something bigger and better than past years. After giving it much thought, we decided upon creating a baby grand piano, because it met both of these specifications, and we felt this would make for a very competitive entry into the competition. 

Functioning Components:

One of the most important features of our piano is functionality. We initially wanted our piano to have a fully functioning soundboard, including the strings, hammers, and keys. After speaking with experts at Yamaha, we reconsidered our idea. The pressure required to hold the strings and hammers would be far too great for the corrugated to handle.

Instead, we decided to create a replica out of corrugated. We still designed some of the basic elements of the soundboard for aesthetic appeal. In order for it to work and play music, however, we used an electric keyboard. The piano is designed with an empty slot for the keyboard to sit in, and it’s encased in corrugated to show only the keys. The keyboard can be plugged into an external amplifier to boost the sound if necessary. The keyboard we designed our piano around fits an M-Audio Keystation 88ex or a M-Audio Prokeys 88sx. The piano includes moving parts as well just as on a real piano. The lid and prop of the piano are designed to open and close using hinges. The moving parts presented design challenges, as it would have been easier to create a fixed lid that was permanently open.


We modeled our piano after an 8 ft Yamaha piano located in Clemson’s Music Center. We shortened our piano to 6 feet because we needed it to fit out the doors to move it. 6 feet still meets the depth to create a realistic looking baby grand piano. We took the dimensions of our model piano and sketched a rough version. In order to make the design simpler to replicate, the piano was broken down into components. We used SolidWorks to create a 3D design. Each part was combined into an assembly file to create our piano.

Because our piano was made out of corrugated, we had to figure out a way to create it from layers. Our SolidWorks file was one large model, so to solve this problem we used Rhino to break it into cross sections and create individual layers. These cuts were carefully numbered and arranged into Illustrator files, which we cut on the Esko Kongsberg cutting table. 

Due to the size and weight of the piano, we realized we would need to use more than just corrugated to support it. We used ½ inch MDF wooden fiberboard to support the base of the piano. Metal rods run through the legs for support and screw into the MDF base. ¼ inch MDF board was used for the lid as well as the top of the sidewalls so the lid would have something solid for the hinges to screw into. The use of these other materials was kept to a minimum and they are barely visible.

We also encountered another problem. Because the piano is 6X6 feet, the layers would not all fit on one piece of corrugated, which are 4X8 ft. This meant we would have had to split the piano in half in our design. However, we didn’t want to simply divide the piano down the middle into two pieces, because this would create a weak point in the center. To avoid this problem, we divided the piano into thirds so that the cut line divided it at the 1/3 and 2/3 marks instead of the center. We alternated the sides of the cuts such that every other layer overlapped in the same place. However, no two consecutive layers were cut in the same place. This is similar to weaving every other page of a phone book together, thus greatly increasing the strength and eliminating one fault line in the middle.


We began creating the piano by starting with the legs. Once the files were complete in Illustrator, we began cutting them on the Kongsberg. After all the legs were cut and assembled, the MDF base was milled and joined together with metal brackets to create the main structural support. We attached the legs to the base, and at this point we were ready to assemble the rest of our piano.

The sidewalls were made from the alternating layers, split to be 1/3 and 2/3 of the piano, alternating every other layer. The sidewalls were about 40 layers thick. After creating the walls and the basic shape of the piano, we milled the wood for the lid. We needed the lid to be light, so we just designed the MDF support as a crisscross pattern rather than a solid board to eliminate weight while still providing support. We created a layered corrugated rod with a metal bar running through the middle to support the lid of the piano for when the lid is open. The lid and prop both have hinges on them so they can fold down and the lid can close, just as on a real piano.

 The last thing we made was the soundboard of the piano under the lid. We recreated the basic shape of some of the components found inside of a real piano, but did not include the strings or hammers.

Next, we placed in our electronic keyboard and customized the front of the piano. We added a sheet of corrugated to mask the entire top of the keyboard except for the keys and dials. For added detail, we used Illustrator to engrave the AICC logo into the front of our piano. Lastly, we decided we couldn’t have a piano without a bench to sit on and play some music, so we cut and assembled a corrugated piano bench to match the corrugated piano.

We contemplated adding color on the piano, but ultimately didn’t add any because we felt by leaving the corrugated in its natural state, this would keep with the theme of a corrugated art piece. Color would have distracted and taken away from this. 


While this piano was made primarily with corrugated, additional mediums were used in order to give the piano the structural integrity it needed to support its weight. Two ½ inch MDF boards were used for the base of the piano. These were joined using metal brackets and screws. Metal rods run through the piano legs and screw into the MDF board for support. Four metal rods run up through the sidewalls of the piano to align and support the corrugated. ¼ inch MDF board runs around the rim of the top of the walls for the lid hinges to screw into. ¼ inch MDF board is also used in the lid to provide support and prevent sagging. Other than these supporting materials, the rest of the piano is made from C-flute. We chose C flute because it was small enough to show the details we designed, yet not so small that it would require an unfathomable amount of layer. More layers would have required a much greater assembly time and would not have been feasible because of the size of the piano. Thinner corrugated is also denser, which would have made our piano weigh even more, and weight was one of our top concerns. Because of this, C flute was our clear choice of medium. 


While working on this project, our team learned technical skills and bonded over solving unforeseen problems that arose when creating the piano. The complexity and detail of the design successfully replicated a real piano, and the corrugated gives the piano a unique look because of the layered effect. Overall, the piano proved to be a very challenging but rewarding project to design and build from which we learned a great deal.


We were extremely excited to find that we were award first place in the annual AICC Student Design Competition for our corrugated piano. This award was given for their "Corrugated as Art" division; one of three different competition categories available for entry. We received our award at the 2013 AICC annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 24, 2013.