Jeff Fuchs, chairman of the Maryland Advisory Commission on Manufacturing Competitiveness, records video of a 3D printer at the CCBC Catonsville Fab Lab.
Manufacturing may conjure up images of massive warehouses and assembly lines, but a small workshop at the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville demonstrates a simpler approach.
A laser cutter, a 3D printer, a router and various other tools line the walls of the Fab Lab Baltimore, a joint effort of CCBC and the United States Fab Lab Network, which opened in 2011. The lab and its creative network are available to anyone upon completion of a four-hour training course.
The Maryland Advisory Commission on Manufacturing Competitiveness on Thursday explored the lab and spotlighted its potential to help entrepreneurs and small manufacturers create custom product prototypes.
“Maryland manufacturing is very diverse, and in order to meet the needs of that diverse population, resources like this are very important, so we need to make more people aware of them,” said Jeff Fuchs, chairman of the commission. “People can bring their ideas here, without a lot of capital and without a lot of effort on their part, and get connected with some of the tools to make their ideas a reality, and maybe turn those ideas into a business.”
The commission, which was appointed by Governor Martin O’Malley in 2012, toured the lab following a roundtable discussion on the influence of community colleges on Maryland’s manufacturing workforce.
Lab users, which include students, designers, artists, makers and inventors, are almost entirely self-directed. Building materials may be brought in or purchased in-house. 3D printing is priced at $10 per cubic inch of plastic, one of the lowest prices in the Baltimore area. according to lab manager Kelly Zona.
The high-tech production tools don’t have to intimidate, Zona said: “We’ve had 7-year-olds comes in and use these machines, just to give you an idea of how accessible it is.”
On Thursday, lab user Todd Blatt, was using an engraver to print a map of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth on a stretch of leather. Blatt, the founder of Custom 3D Stuff, has made a living out of creating customizable manufactured items. The lab offers him a unique and affordable opportunity to test new techniques, he said.
“They have machines here that I could never afford on my own because of the expense,” he said.
Zona said she judges the lab’s progress by its growing number of users and its “success stories.”
Makers of prototypes for hair clips, an adjustable curtain system and a pop-up shop display have each pushed their products to market. Perhaps the most successful prototype produced at the lab was a camera lens cap holder called CapGorilla—with the help of a Kickstarter campaign, hundreds have since sold in 24 countries.
“A large part is the educational aspect. Many people don’t realize they can come to a place like this and use these resources to make their visions a reality,” Zona said.