(Photo by Tyler Waldman)
Lately 3D printers have been in the news for all the wrong reasons, such as security fears. But at Howard County’s Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, a new prototype lab is looking to take advantage of 3D printing’s booming applications and make the county and state a hub for the technology.
Howard County elected officials and local businesspeople gathered Thursday at a ribbon-cutting for 3D Maryland in Columbia. The 2,000-square-foot center, which Howard County officials announced in October, is home to four 3D printers and experienced staff like director Jan Baum.
“We are doing prototyping on a fee-for-service basis, but we are also a knowledge center for the technology,” Baum said.
To helm 3D Maryland, Baum took a leave of absence from Towson University, where she ran the Object Lab for digital fabrication. In March, Baum testified to the House Committee on Small Business in Washington, D.C., on the growth of 3D printing.
“We are now on the leading edge of what many are calling the next industrial revolution,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said in a press release. “3D Maryland, and this new facility, allow us to take another leap to drive innovation, enhance manufacturing, and keep and add jobs right here by using these cutting edge technologies.”
The four 3D printers were hard at work during Thursday’s open house, sculpting intricate test pieces modeled after the 3D Maryland logo. But there are far more practical applications for 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.
Chris Cosgrove, metrology manager at Belcamp-based SURVICE Metrology, spoke as associate engineer Joel Witman was using a mechanical arm and scanner to scan a small sculpture, a model that could be reproduced using a 3D printer.
3D Maryland has “exposed us to other users in this ecosystem,” Cosgrove said. “We’re more focused on the data collection and measurement side of that equation, but many of our customers have a need for rapid prototyping and 3D printing, so what 3D Maryland has helped us do is be able to point them in the right direction to people that really know that world.”
Already, Baum said, 3D Maryland has assisted businesses as far away as Washington and Dorchester counties. In remarks at the ribbon-cutting, Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship executive director Julie Lenzer Kirk cited one area product, the flushable plastic toilet seat cover Tidy Potty, that she said may have been prototyped in China if not for 3D Maryland’s help.
“It would have taken [Beaucoupdeforce CEO Thomas Harris] a lot more time, a lot more money to get this product out,” Kirk said.
Further down the road, Baum said she sees bio-printing — with human cells — becoming the next revolution, and it might be coming sooner than we think. In December, a Dutch woman with a life-threatening brain disorder was given a new 3D-printed plastic skull.