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Ornament sales benefit charities

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.

Bigger companies typically come to the institute with their own design files, but Figgatt said engineers are happy to help small businesses develop their products from scratch.

"You see some of the worst napkin sketches you'd believe," he said.

The process begins with an idea.

"You start out with really a brainstorming session to find out what you want to achieve," production engineer Christopher Figgatt said.

In producing the ornament, Figgatt and company decided they wanted to reflect the state's 150th birthday, and researched images on the Internet for ideas. They eventually decided on a design representing the fireworks display that marked West Virginia's sesquicentennial in June. 

Engineers then created a computer model of the ornament and all its details using a computer-aided design, or CAD, program. Next, they sent those designs to a "slicing" software, which broke the model down into individual layers.

This is where the 3-D printer comes in. It creates each of those layers, one on top of another, until the ornament is complete.

Once "printed," technicians remove the ornaments from the printer and remove excess powder by blasting the model with air before spraying it with a special coating to make the powders harden.

The printing process takes about 10 to 15 minutes per ornament, but the machine can be set to produce as many as 20 ornaments per run, which increases the printing time exponentially.

The institute created a limited edition of 100 ornaments for Charleston Newspapers. They are now on sale for $15 each at www.cnpapers.com/ornament or the front desk at the Charleston Newspapers building, 1001 Virginia St. E. in Charleston.

Proceeds will be split evenly between the Daily Mail's Neediest Cases and Gazette Charities.

For more information about the Robert C. Byrd Institute and its 3-D printing services, call 1-800-469-7224.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.


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