The din coming from the high-tech Fab Lab in the HTEC building on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County was nearly deafening last week.
Under the watchful eyes of Jason Hughes protected by safety glasses, a silvery geometric pattern slowly emerged on a shiny black sheet of zinc.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, graduate student watched as the machine, a CNC (computer numerical control) router roughly the size of a dining room table, created little squares and rectangles.
Lisa Moren, a UMBC professor of visual arts, monitored the progress of what is essentially a giant code that can be scanned by a smart phone.
The zinc sheet is part of her project, a series of prints that connect QR codes with landscapes in Australia she entitled "e-LAND."
Inside the Fab Lab, a nonprofit project of CCBC's Technology and Innovation in Manufacturing and Engineering (TIME) Center, is an impressive array of the latest tools, including four 3D printers of varying resolution quality, a 3D scanner, laser cutters and that loud router. There are also computers loaded with the software to run all this cutting-edge technology.
It isn't for students only. Any inventor or tinkerer with an idea is welcome to come in to the Fab Lab and use the equipment to bring his concept to life.
The facility is the only such digital fabrication lab in Maryland open to the public, according to Ken Burch, the TIME Center's director.
Interest in the Fab Lab is growing, according to Kelly Zona, the Fab's Lab's director. She estimates an average of eight to 10 people a day use the lab. "Some days, it's dead. Some days, we're overwhelmed with people," she said.
Most users are from the community, but as CCBC faculty incorporate the lab into the course work, interest from the school's own students is growing.
The Fab Lab — short for fabrication, not fabulous — actually is considered rather fabulous by the creative people who come here to use it.
Moren said she has been impressed by the staff and the tools available.
"Where else can you get access to so much technology in such a walk-in, friendly way?" she asked.
Bill Hermann took the introductory class when the center first opened four years ago and got hooked immediately.
"You do the dreaming and it becomes reality in here," said Hermann, a retired technology teacher who worked at Johnnycake Middle (now Southwest Academy) and Pine Grove Middle schools.
The Relay resident has created several projects, including glasses he etched to commemorate his nieces' births.
On another set of glasses, the proud member of the Relay Improvement Association etched the words "Historic Relay, Maryland."
Sometimes, the results of a user's work are immediately usable. There are the vinyl signs hanging around the lab and a two-toned wooden electric guitar created by Zona.
Other items are just one step in the creation of a final product.
A small orange piece of plastic resting on the 3D printer, for instance, doesn't look like anything. But to its designer, it's part of a helmet.