Printapart.com is a division of FineLine Prototyping. The parent company, FineLine Prototyping, is focused on providing 3-dimensional objects using stereolithography technology produced with various materials. FineLine Prototyping also offers a heavy duty prototyping technology, SLArmor® and finally Microfluidic Fabrication.
These technologies are all geared toward rapid prototyping development with the direct assistance of computer technology. Through tight integration of 3D modeling computer software and some very impressive machinery, prototype development time is reduced exponentially.
Through the development and use of various stereolithography technology FineLine saw an opportunity in the modeling industry. FineLine acquired a 3-dimentional ink-jet printer – the Invision HR 3-D Printer. This line of printers allows for 3-dimentional creation of high definition, small scale parts – that’s modeling. This prompted FineLine to start a new division called printapart.com. Printapart’s niche is small scale small batch custom economical 3D part generation.
Printapart become publically available in mid-April. The peak interest about printapart.com really hit during the August 2006 IPMS National Convention. Realizing that the technology of the Invision printer was suited to the scratch building or ‘super-detailing’ model builder Printapart went to the show and generated a lot of interest and ‘buzz’.
Printapart is an online ‘office’ or store that provides a full web based interface. Through this interface you upload your Stereolithography files (*.STL) from your 3D drawing software, you order your part, establish a production priority, a shipping date and Printapart does the rest. Printapart’s web interface allows you to upload multiple files and manage multiple projects. You can manage each project and get instant price quotes for your parts and set shipping time frames. All this can be done without ever spending a dime. Creating an account on printapart.com is completely free.
The software that controls the Invision HR printer requires Stereolithography files or *.STL files. These are a special file generated from AutoCAD 3D, SolidWorks, or Alibre software packages. These are not the only pieces of software that generate an *.STL file, they are probably the most well known. As long as the software can export or create a *.STL file it will work. Once you create your 3D model (*.STL file), your next step is to create an account on Printapart.com.
On the Printapart.com web site you need to create an account for managing your files and projects. This is a free service and takes no time at all to do. It is on a secure web site so you don’t have to be concerned over your personal information getting into the wrong hands. After that you’re ready to process. The next step is to upload your files and get instant price quotes. You select the parts you want to print and then wait for them to be shipped. There are several different options for determining your shipping date. You can select an express priority which can have your parts ordered, built, finished and shipped in the same day. There is also the standard priority which will have your parts ship the next business day. Finally, there is the economy option which will save you a few dollars and have your parts ship within 2-5 business day typically.
The Invision printers use an acrylic photopolymer ink in a Multi-Jet Modeling process. This ink is injected a drop at a time and as the drops are placed an ultraviolet light is applied and the drop is ‘fast-cured’ into solid form. To assist the photopolymer ink in building and supporting the three dimensional shapes the printer uses a second special wax ink. This wax is placed/printed under and around the solid cured ink part. In effect you have two color printing: you have a part in blue cured ink and white wax supports.
When the printing is done the part is removed from the printer and ‘cleaned’. The first step is to heat the part to melt the wax portion away. Then it is sent through a series of steps to wash and remove any remaining residue or residual materials.
The HR in Invision stands for High Resolution. This allows for great detail. Amazingly, this printer can make a part that as small as 0.0015”. Rivets and bolts or buckles - anything small can be created. You do have to consider how fragile a part or detail that size would be and design accordingly. It can be done though.
These parts are made pixel by pixel (drop by drop) and this yield a bit of what’s called ‘pixilation’ or stair step affect. If you look really closely you can see the affect. The ink is fully ‘workable’ meaning that you can sand this down to a totally smooth. Once smoothed down they are fully paintable with any paints you may have. This pixilation can be controlled to a certain degree by the original .STL file.
There are some limits to the size of the pieces you can print. The size limit is two fold. The first critical measurement is its height, it can not exceed 1.7 inches high (don’t forget you can put a part on its side to stay under this limit). The second limit is that the length times the width cannot be larger than 10 square inches.
As far as cost for these parts goes, it will depend on a few factors. The primary two factors are volume and platform space. The volume is simply how much of the acrylic photopolymer ink will be used. The platform referenced is the actual surface on the printer where the part is ‘printed’. The more “real estate” that is taken up on the platform, the more the part will cost.
Another factor for pricing is the amount of data your file uses. If you go overboard on the resolution of a file, you will be charged for it. If you have a small piece that is 50 megabytes in filesize, you will be charged based on how much data your part contains. The Invision HR can only handle a finite amount of data, therefore a platform can be deemed full even if is not physically filled up.
FineLine Prototyping and Printapart.com are based in Raleigh North Carolina, USA. As with the saying, don’t judge a book by its cover – Don’t judge a company by the building facade. The building is a small brick building in a developing office park right outside the famous Research Triangle Park.
Walk inside the building and appearances totally change. There are open modern office areas adjacent to separate production and finishing areas. It’s quite a nice environment. One thing I noticed was the atmosphere, it was friendly cheerful and upbeat.
The production facilities are separated by process. There is one larger room lined with their heavy duty machines: stereolithography, SLArmor® and Microfluidic Fabrication. Next to this is a finishing room. In here there a number of different work stations where staff members remove the parts from support material, clean up any residual materials, and complete any finishing processes requested. This room actually looks like a huge room with a bunch of model workbenches. Works-in-progress are on every bench, different stages of preparation. Modeling tools everywhere.
Another room houses their Printapart.com production facility. This room has the Invision printers in it with an area for post production cleanup.
It’s all quite an impressive facility.
The best part of the company is the people. Their crew is broken down into three main teams: Build Prep, Finishing, and Quoting. There are roughtly 35 people on the whole team. Look close you might recognize one of them.
While the 3D printing is an amazing tool these people are the most important component in the process.
Check out Printapart here www.printapart.com
And check FineLine here FineLine Prototyping