RCBI leases its equipment to companies and offers on-the-job training for those who need it. The institute has locations in South Charleston, Huntington, Bridgeport and Mineral County.
Huntington is home to what Figgatt called a "mid-range" printer that costs $50,000 to $60,000. The larger industrial-size printer in South Charleston runs about half a million dollars. RCBI also has various "desktop" printers that work on smaller projects that cost $20,000 to $30,000.
What printer they use depends on the project, Figgatt said. If the product needs to be durable and made out of stronger material, RCBI uses the big printer in South Charleston; if it needs color and detail, the mid-range printer in Huntington makes more sense.
The 3-D printers may use a common plastic like ABS, found in day-to-day components such as cellphone covers or interior car panels. On the higher end of the durability scale is a Federal Aviation Approved-material called Altrum, which can be used on aircraft and can be sterilized.
The printer then binds together each added layer of material until reaching the finished product.
Most 3-D printing still just produces prototypes, but as stronger materials evolve, that will change, Figgatt said.
"We can actually now print parts and pieces and components that we actually use," he said. "They are no longer a physical model or prototype. It's actually the end product."
Prototyping with 3-D printers offers companies more flexibility with their research and development.
"It gives you the freedom to design something and make it and say, 'eh, I don't like that, let's change it,'" Figgatt said. "You can literally change it within a few minutes and have another made in a few minutes."
For all the technology, though, Figgatt said his favorite part about his work is the people he works with -- the people that come in with ideas scribbled on napkins or have an idea in their head.
"For the first time they have their idea in their hand," he said. "They can hold it and look at it and say, 'Wow, that's exactly how I envisioned it' and that's pretty cool to see and we have done that a lot."
Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.c...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.