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Aberdeen / Havre De Grace

Harford seeks to take advantage of 3D printing technology from Aberdeen Proving Ground

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.

Moore said ECBC can turn around some prototypes in a matter of hours for corporations, which cuts down on manufacturing costs as businesses tweak designs based on the prototype.

ECBC also has technology to do reverse printing, where an already produced 3D object is laser scanned into a computer and manipulated through CAD (computer aided design) software to make modifications and improvements.

Wienand said ECBC's participation in NMAMIA will allow the research and development to be used "outside of the fence [APG perimeter]" to benefit businesses and the local economy and to get students excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

Wienand said the technology from ECBC's lab can be easily used to create innovative equipment for first responders, such as firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians in the field.

Backed by Obama

President Barack Obama announced in March 2012 plans to establish the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which establishes 15 centers of innovation around the United States. In March 2013, the National Manufacturing Innovation Institute awarded $4.5 million for seven applied research and development partnerships projects and another $9 million last January toward 15 projects that will provide $10.3 million in matching cost shares.

The U.S. Senate and House have introduced legislation to create the Network for Manufacturing Innovation Program, which appropriates $600 million for up to 45 centers creating regional innovation hubs through public-private partnerships to strengthen competitiveness in U.S. manufacturing, new ventures and boost local and state economies.

James said she believes the creation of NMAMIA will allow the new authority to compete for federal money to help to strengthen the business sector and economy of Harford County.

"This will bring immediate job creation," James said. "And we will put together a proposal to compete for the next round of awards from the federal government. We're starting out so ahead of the game."

Throughout U.S. history, military technology has always been used to help the country domestically, James said. She said there was enormous prosperity in the 1940s and 1950s following World War II. James said military innovations help the private sector in the expansion of economic growth.

State and local funding needed

Both the Senate and House bills in Annapolis require the governor to make an appropriation of at least $150,000 annually into the state budget beginning in FY 2016, according to the fiscal note.

General fund spending will increase by at least $150,000 beginning in FY 2015, according to the note. It is believed that establishment of the authority will increase annual special fund revenues to the state beginning in FY 2015, although the amount cannot be estimated.

The bills also require creation of one salaried executive director position. The salary and fringe benefits are estimated to cost $94,960 with an operating expense of $4,950. The total FY 2015 state expenditures will cost $99,910.

Harford and Cecil County government will also be required to appropriate funds annually to promote the authority. They will jointly, along with the Department of Economic Development, provide staff, office space and operational support to the authority, according to the fiscal note, which says establishment of NMAMIA may bring grants and additional resources to small businesses that are engaged in additive manufacturing or that are part of the supply chain.

Job training and certification

Mary Hastler, director of the Harford County Public Library, said she is very supportive of the library being a member of the proposed authority, as the Abingdon library already provides a residential size 3D printer for local residents to use. Hastler said is it important to introduce children to STEM research and technology at an early age to peak their interest and show them practical application.

James, who also introduced legislation this session to commission a study of the vo-tech opportunities in Harford County, is pushing for certificate and job training programs as a part of the establishment of NMAMIA.

James, as well as other Harford legislators like Del. Rick Impallaria, have voiced concerns this legislative session about the declining number of vocational technical opportunities for students in Harford County. The plumbing program at Harford Technical High School has been eliminated and a shop teacher removed from Fallston High School in recent years, Impallaria said at a recent delegation meeting.

ECBC often hires Harford County Public Schools graduates with vo-tech skills. Rashad Scott, who graduated from Harford Technical High School in 2007, was hired as an engineering technician fresh out of high school.

"I came in and interviewed for a machine shop job," Scott said. "They had an opening here doing something new. They had a variety of machines and it was an experience I never had."

Under NMAMIA, James said, students in Harford County will be provided resources to earn certifications in additive manufacturing innovations, which will help to ensure job security in the ever-changing economic landscape.

She said the authority will help to ensure Harford County residents can participate in the workforce at every level of training and educational background.

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