Additive printing advances in Harford

Del. Mary-Dulany James looks into a 3D printer at an object being created, while Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center Branch Chief Rick Moor, middle, describes the process, during a recent tour of the center. James is a sponsor of legislation that would meld the center's technological advances in additive printing with local schools and businesses. (Photo courtesy of ECBC Communications, The Aegis / March 20, 2014)

Considerable innovation and research in the rapidly developing world of 3D printing has been done at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and, as a result, Harford state legislators hope to use the proximity of cutting-edge technology to benefit local educational institutions and businesses.

The county's legislators are spearheading bills in the Maryland General Assembly to create a regional 3D printing authority in collaboration with the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Legislators say the bill will help bring jobs to the area and put Maryland in the forefront of innovation throughout the United States.

Additive printing, better known as 3D printing, uses an industrial robot to create three-dimensional solid objects through a successive layering technique, and additive process, as opposed to carving away or stamping the material, a subtractive process.

Harford Del. Mary-Dulany James and Del. David Rudolph, who represents Cecil County, have introduced House Bill 1060, which establishes The Northeast Maryland Additive Manufacturing Innovation Authority, or NMAMIA. Harford State Sens. J.B. Jennings and Barry Glassman have introduced similar legislation, SB 889, in the Senate.

"Nobody in the world has what ECBC has and they are willing to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the authority," James said. "This will lead to immediate job creation, and this technology will lead to workforce development and economic development."

James said NMAMIA will be a "game changer" for Harford County, Maryland and the U.S and, with it, additive manufacturing technology jobs, which were once moving overseas, will begin to come back to America.

The Edgewood lab is worth $1.8 billion in infrastructure and specialized equipment with about 1,400 personnel, according to ECBC Director Joseph D. Wienand.

Under the NMAMIA proposals, ECBC has agreed to allocate between $50 million and $75 million in resources, including engineers, personnel, blueprints, technology, knowledge, machines and equipment through a research and development agreement toward any projects and initiatives of the authority.

NMAMIA will be comprised of officials or representatives from the Harford and Cecil County officers of the Department of Business and Economic Development, Harford Community College, Cecil College, Towson University, Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Governor's Workforce Investment Board, the Regional Manufacturing Institute, Harford and Cecil County public school systems, Harford and Cecil County public libraries, 3D Maryland, the Susquehanna Workforce Network and the Army Alliance.

According to the bills, NMAMIA will leverage the additive manufacturing investments at ECBC and around the region to "position the state as a leader in additive manufacturing." NMAMIA will foster the economic development of the region by promoting collaboration among government, businesses, educational institutions, entrepreneurs and innovators.

The House bill passed Saturday on its third reading by a 131-0 vote. As of Monday afternoon, the Senate bill had been reported favorable with amendments by the Finance Committee.

3D Innovations

The first working 3D printer was created around 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp. ECBC started in prototype development in additive manufacturing in 1989, when the lab secured its first 3D printer, Wienand said.

"What we have is a workforce that is very, very experienced in 3D printing and additive manufacturing," Wienand said during a recent interview and tour of the facility by James, Harford County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson and the aides of several other legislators. "Now, our folks are recognized as some of the leaders. We get the beta testers for all the new machines before they are actually sold on the market."

ECBC is known worldwide for its role in the control and destruction of chemical weapons stockpiles. A team of specialists from ECBC has been aboard a container ship in the Mediterranean Sea on a four-month mission to destroy Syria's chemical warfare stockpile. A detailed, accurately scaled model of the neutralization and destruction vessel being used in the process was created in ECBC's additive manufacturing lab, where it sits on display.

One of ECBC's first additive manufacturing projects was creating new protective masks for the military to ensure their protection in a chemical or biological environment. At the lab, specialists would take 3D pictures of a soldier's face and create a custom respirator or mask to fit that individual.

"Most people's faces are either small, medium or large," Wienand said. "But, if you think about it, there's also extra small and very large and for those kinds of individuals you have to do something different to make sure the mask fits."

ECBC is also well known for its octopus self-sealing suction cups, designed by ECBC, U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the University of Maryland. The fingernail-sized suction cups use robotic technology to improve the way emergency response teams observe areas of devastation. The technology helps to reduce human risk by first putting robots in the field.

ECBC's additive manufacturing lab contains several large scale 3D printers, which manipulate materials such as powdered stainless steel, polymers and thermoplastics to create a variety of objects, among them ankle prosthetics, scale sized bone-like 3D models of skulls for mask creation and even a 3D bust of retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.

The lab creates projects for the military, but it also contracts with businesses and corporations to create pre-manufacturing models and prototypes, Rick Moore, chief of rapid technologies and inspection branch at ECBC, said.