It’s been 30 years since the end of the cold war and yet Russia continues to evoke those memories. In fact, Russia is totally different now. Moscow is an ultra-modern, vibrant city and its state of the art Skolkovo research center is one of the clearest signs of this change. Anisoprint Skolkovo, a resident startup here, is the first company to challenge Markforged’s dominance of continuous fiber 3D printing by extrusion (Desktop Metal’s recently introduced Fiber system takes a different approach). And Europe is again in the midst of this commercial war. While in Moscow for the 3D Today Fest, we just had to see for ourselves exactly what’s at stake.
Skolkovo is incredible. This “research city” is enormous, modern, welcoming and contains just about every kind of advanced research topic you can think of: IT, Biomedical, Energy, Space and Nuclear. It’s Russian science and engineering at its best and the best place for a composite 3D printing startup to start from. Anisoprint started here only a few years ago. The idea to develop a continuous fiber 3D printer came to the four co-founders as a result of their experience in the aerospace segment. The main advantage that Anisoprint is able to offer compared to Markforged, Mikhail Golubev, Chief Design Engineer and Co-founder at Anisoprint explained, is a more advanced extrusion system that enables the deposition of fiber reinforcements in a lattice-like structure, further and significantly reducing the use – and thus the cost – of the fiber materials without compromising part strength.
In addition, Anisoprint’s systems can operate with a large variety of different thermoplastics, including PC, PLA, TPU and PETG, along with more traditional nylon. The carbon fiber used by Anisoprint is pre-preg in a thermoset matrix, which gets heated up just enough (by a heating system placed near the carbon fiber extruder) to be shaped as it is deposited. This means that the final parts produced on an Anisoprint system are an ideal mix of fiber, a thermoset and a themroplastic.
Anisoprint is now building up its business in Europe with distributors and resellers in Germany, UK, France (MultiStation) and other countries, however, the company is still significantly smaller than Markforged. This is due to limited financial resources (Anisoprint is almost entirely self-funded) and also less time on the market. However, they have just introduced a larger size (A3) version of their composer system and have introduced the largest commercial continuous fiber composite 3D printer yet: the ProM IS 500. This system will have a sealed heated chamber meaning it will be able to produce very large composite parts using advanced thermoplastic matrices.
The final machines destined to the market are assembled at a facility in Germany, near Munich, which makes it easier for Anisoprint to sell their systems in Europe. However, all systems are developed and undergo extensive testing at the Anisoprint Skolkovo facility. In fact, the machines present in the Skolkovo office are also used to produce serial parts which are then used in machine development and early-stage production.
As multiple composite 3D printing projects increasingly propose multi-axis robotic extrusion, Anisoprint engineers also presented an extrusion system based on a multi-axes Kuka robot. Golubev revealed that the company is working on a commercial system based on this early demonstrator (first shown at Formenxt 2018). In this project, the Anisoprint engineers demonstrated multi-axes continuous composite fiber material deposition from multiple directions.
Today Anioprint focuses almost exclusively on carbon fiber reinforcement for its systems. The use of other fibers, such as basalt, is also under consideration however carbon fiber is considered ideal. Anisoprint sells the carbon fiber spools for about €350, each one containing 700 meters (about 125 grams) of pre-preg carbon fiber.
So what’s next for Anisoprint? The company is very much focused on European market expansion where Markforged is already well established. However, Markforged has been focusing more on the Metal X systems and has so far failed to present a large format, industrial-level machine for composites. Which Anisoprint has and just in time: composite 3D printing is now really getting hot as technologies evolve to meet the demand for more automated production, especially using continuous fiber. “While there remain some limitations in terms of Z-axis strength, due to the layered approach, our continuous fiber 3D printed parts have almost 10 times the strength of chopped fiber composite parts,” Gobulev says. The appointment is set for JEC World 2020 in Paris next March.