Abingdon Library 3D printer

Jeneanne Mittman shows off the minion she made using the Abingdon Library's 3D printer. (Photo courtesy of Harford County Public, The Aegis / November 5, 2013)

An orange angry bird, chess pieces the size of your hand and a minion from the hit animated film "Despicable Me" are just a few of the 3D objects Harford County library patrons have been printing lately.

The Abingdon branch of the Harford County Public Library is one of the first places to offer free access to a 3D printer. And people are taking full advantage of the cutting-edge technology.

The branch was gifted the 3D printer about a month ago from Dr. Stephen "Drew" Wilkerson, associate director of special programs, vehicle technology directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to Mary Hastler, library director for Harford County Public Library.

She said she is excited to bring the technology to people in Harford County.

"This is something I've wanted to do for about a year," Hastler, who considers herself an early adopter of technology, said. "While on vacation in Florida I got a personalized iPhone case created with a 3D printer and thought I had to bring it to the library."

3D printing, or additive manufacturing as the process is also known, allows the user to sketch or draw an object and then print a three dimensional life-size version through a layer-by-layer technique. Reports show 3D printing users around the globe are creating everything from simple trinkets to working homemade prosthetic hands, to rifles.

Wilkerson worked with Bob Kavetsky, president of Energetics Technology Center, an independent non-profit promoting science, technology, engineering and math operation in southern Maryland, to secure a grant for the printer, as well as the colored filaments, which are used to create the objects.

"I think this is going to be life-altering technology, the way the computer was," Wilkerson said. "It's going to change the world we live in."

Wilkerson said he first became interested in 3D printers after hearing about a library in Colorado where students were using a 3D printer to generate craft trinkets and objects from their imaginations.

"My goal is to put two printers in every library branch in Harford County," Wilkerson said. "Lots of people in Harford County don't have the money to buy 3D printers. This will help to level the playing field."

Small 3D printers, which can be used in the home, retail for about $2,000.

The 3D printer at the Abingdon branch sits near the circulation desk and is available to users during regular branch hours. It contains about six color filaments and Hastler said you can hardly hear it working.

"It's very quiet," Hastler said. "It's a very slow process. Almost everything takes about 20 minutes to be created and it doesn't interfere with the staff working right next to it or anyone studying nearby."

The filaments are made of PLA, polylactic acid, which is made of corn starch, thus it is bio-degradable under commercial composting conditions.

"There's no toxic fumes and it doesn't smell like anything," Hastler said.

The Abingdon branch printer is being used mostly to print small objects like key chains, bracelets and thimbles, but Wilkerson said he anticipates users will begin to craft more complex objects.

So far, Wilkerson has already taught a class at the branch on the basics of using the 3D printer. On Nov. 9, he will be holding another seminar teaching the process of turning a cell phone photo into a 3D object and basic 3D computer aided drawing software.

"We're always trying to see what we can bring to our customers, so Harford County is up on the latest technology," Hastler said. "Digital literacy is important."