CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This year, newspaper readers can help the area's needy families, celebrate Christmas and mark West Virginia's 150th birthday, just by hanging an ornament on their trees.
Charleston Newspapers is now selling a limited-edition ornament to benefit the Daily Mail's Neediest Cases and Gazette Charities.
Designed by engineers at the Robert C. Byrd Institute in Huntington, the ornament features the State Capitol and its iconic gold dome with fireworks bursting overhead.
The institute also produced the ornaments using a 3-D printer. It works almost like a home inkjet printer, moving back and forth until the picture is complete.
But instead of ink, this 3-D printer deposits a fine layer of powder. And instead of a picture, this device produces a real three-dimensional object.
"It will print out the first layer, and then another roll of powder on top of that layer. And then the second, one layer at a time until it completes the whole solid model," said design engineer Ronald Cabacar.
The institute came up with idea for the ornaments as a way to both help local charities, and get the word out about the 3-D printing process.
Design engineer Christopher Figgatt said promoting advanced manufacturing is part of the institute's mission, and there isn't a whole lot of 3-D printing happening in West Virginia right now.
"A lot of people have heard about the technology but they're not aware it's available to them to use," he said.
The Robert C. Byrd Technical Institute has been 3-D printing since 2009, and works with businesses large and small, from entrepreneurs developing prototypes of their inventions to major manufacturers who need specialty tools for their assembly limes.
"If you can think about it, we've almost worked on it," Figgat said.
The institute has helped create everything from cellphone cases to special fixtures and tools for the Toyota plant in Buffalo, the NGK Sparkplug plant in Charleston and J.H. Fletcher Mining Equipment in Huntington.