Top Tech 2013 Day 18: 3D Printing Food

Among the applications of 3d printing, we at Prokalkeo have a favorite that is rarely discussed- 3d printing food! In many cases, the applications of 3d printing tend to be over-sold…while it does open a ton of new applications, there are mathematical reasons that mean it still lags far behind conventional manufacturing in a number of areas.

However, production of food-at a range of levels, though unlikely in the most mass produced or most common ‘household cooking’ levels- is in essence hand performed manufacturing. We’d like to cover in depth automation of food production in the future, but today we’re covering the 3d printing of food.

So what are the requirements for the 3d printing of food? The end product needs to be able to leave a nozzle-unless adjustments are made, that means that it needs to be a viscous material (likely, a dough or other thick mixture such as chocolate) that has properties that fall within a defined range.

While MIT’s Cornucopia project and Cornell’s Fab@Home project have received attention from people watching this industry in past years, a number of advances have been made on this front in 2013.

Anjan Contractor at Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) is spearheading a project that has received a $125,000 grant from NASA to develop a prototype modified RepRap 3d printer designed to mix a number of culinary building blocks to print out food-with the goal being to develop dough based foods like pizza first and foremost. This is along the same lines as the projects mentioned above.

Piq Chocolates in Austin uses 3d printers to print out artisanal, custom made chocolates. While they do not yet offer fillings or anything besides combinations of exceptionally high quality chocolate, it is likely that this trend will continue-if you think about it, everyone has a different taste for chocolate. The level of adoption, of course, depends entirely on how it compares to the price of more conventional luxury options.

Luis Rodriguez is working on (alongside other researchers) a variety of projects that incorporate rapid prototyping with 3d printing. Among these, he has recently ‘printed’  out pancakes.

And that’s not the limit of baked goods with 3d printing, either-here’s a short rundown: complex sugar sculptures (The Sugar Lab), cookie dough and icing (an application of Fab@Home), and pizza (Foodini, via Barcelona based Natural Machines).

What’s next? Who knows. The price is going to drop from here, though-and this is a technology that will disrupt job sectors that have been, perhaps, neglected by common forecasting.