No Red & Blue Glasses Required
Free State 3D Printing employs state-of-the-art technology to reproduce and design tools, tokens, and tchotchkes.
by Rick Hemphill & photos by Turner Photography Studio
Sliding back and forth, arranging layers of material thinner than a sheet of paper, the printer deposits layer upon layer creating objects in 3-D. Slowly, it rises in the chamber, reflecting the computer-aided design until it finishes. Any object: a mold, a car part, a toy, a figurine, whether it be a widget, a product of beauty, or keepsake, can essentially be printed in one shot from any one of several materials. Resin, plastic, paper, or potentially even more exotic materials, depending on the printer being used, allows the imagination and creativity of any individual to be printed into reality.
Located at the Hagerstown Community College Technology Innovation Center, Free State 3D Printing specializes in bringing the abstract to reality. Here, images and designs flow from many sources to produce everything you see around you. They have the ability to print in many different media, from resin to plastic, and even a wood-based process resembling a hot glue gun.
“I have been playing around with 3-D printing for three or four years,” says Henry House, owner of Free State 3D. “At that time I did not think the market was ready for 3-D printing, but jump forward four or five years and the price of viable commercial printers has come down considerably — and that brings us to today.” Free State 3D has since designed a portable 3-D scanning booth made of carbon fiber that they custom designed the joints for its 120-camera array. “It will capture as fast as clicking the shutter and then it takes about 45 minutes to process the image,” Henry says.
Different printers can produce different types of objects due to the materials they use to print. “We have an FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printer, which is in essence a hot glue gun,” says Henry. “It melts colored plastic filament and builds it upon itself.” For this style of printing, the texture isn’t very fine, but it does the job. They also have a resin printer that offers a very fine resolution down to several microns: i.e., one thousandth of a millimeter.
Free State’s capabilities continue to increase as they are adding an SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) printer, which uses powder and a laser to fuse the powder into a solid object. “This printer uses gypsum wallboard powder and sprays ink over top, along with a binder,” Henry continues. “This gives the ability to print moving parts, such as a ball bearing in housing.” They even have the ability to print an adjustable wrench. “We have a paper 3-D printer in which each layer of paper is hit with an inkjet printer scribed around and a layer of glue is applied.” Essentially, each layer is glued and bound together and becomes something similar to a piece of wood. “It is so durable you can hammer nails with it,” Henry says. “The gypsum printer color may fade but the paper printer is color fast. We are really excited about having that.”
As a boutique manufacturer, they can produce up to 100 items in-house, but when the quantity grows beyond that, it tends to stop being cost effective. With their scanners, they can also create 3-D images for other people with 3-D printers, or they can print a limited run. Smaller manufacturers without a 3-D department can reach out to Free State, and have what they need created and flexibly produced.
A Personal Touch
“We could create a custom dog urn by taking a standard 2-D picture that has been sitting on your wall for 20 years and we can create a 3-D image,” says Henry. “It’s neat because you have a live action shot of your pet or your son going skiing, which we can take and give you a 3-D image of that can be a Christmas ornament, something to sit on your desk, or be a printed photo cube,” he adds. Free State is currently looking to work with local photographers to offer a 3-D figurine in addition to their photo shoot, which would be perfect for wedding cake toppers and things for those once-in-a-lifetime events. “Say you have an old birthday card from your mother; we can image it and print it off in a more permanent medium; or we can take off your mother’s signature and have it cast by a jeweler; or we can print off a charm here. There is nothing we cannot reproduce,” says Henry. “The technology is coming to print the ship in the bottle,” he continues.
The Technology Innovation Center provides a stable environment for the printing, which allows them to control the temperatures and curing, but does put limitations on their abilities to print in metal or some other materials. “With the TIC a lot of the incremental utilities are all included in my rent,” says Henry. “The cost of operation and the business development aspect of being here cannot be dismissed. We have a six-month lease and if the business really takes off, I can expand here or move to a commercial space,” he adds. While there is ample possibility for this area of business to really boom, Henry thinks part of the challenge will be educating people as to what 3-D printing actually consists of.
Bound Only By Imagination
“It is amazing how far we have come,” Henry says. After having worked as a chef for six years and enjoying the job, but not loving the hours, 3-D printing involves similar levels of creativity, and offers just as many challenges, which so far has been a boon for Henry since starting the enterprise last March. “I enjoy the freedom of this,” Henry admits. “This challenges my brain on a daily basis and I haven’t been this happy in years. It is fun to be creative and play with things… and to really experience someone else’s imagination. This keeps my brain young and moving.”
So far, Free State has the local market cornered. “We are the only ones in Hagerstown doing 3-D printing.” Because 3-D printers are a technology of the present, commercial printers provide a much higher resolution that is not available in the small personal units.
“If you can come up with an idea in your head we can (print) it for you. It really has boundless potential. Imagine picking up the phone, calling us, and saying I need this part. If the 3-D scan is available, I can print it off.” Free State can even take the satellite images from a neighborhood and produce a 3-D layout with all the houses and trees, allowing for a virtual walk, though the size of a little dollhouse or model train display.
Free State 3D
20140 Scholar Drive, Suite 216, Hagerstown www.facebook.com/freestate3d