3D printing for the Food Industry

Published on May 17, 2017

3D printing for the Food Industry

Blog
  • 3D Printing is rather new to the food industry
  • Chocolate and direct food printing have been widely discussed
  • Printing molds have more direct applications in the food industry

3D printing food has been a widely discussed topic. The direct 3D printing of chocolate has unleashed many imaginations worldwide. The direct 3D printing of meat is also a popular topic. Directly 3D printing of food in industry and the printing of food at home are also topics we keep seeing in the news. Using 3D printing for molds and industrial tooling is however a much clearer near term opportunity.

3D Printing Chocolate

There are very few topics in 3D printing that have spawned as much interest as 3D printing chocolate. Thousands of news reports worldwide have centered on the 3D printing of chocolate. Time and time again news stories would appear referencing a local person who had 3D printed chocolate. Media outlets seemed to think that 3D printing chocolate was an incredibly relevant news story.

Most of these stories simply showed a syringe extruder (also called a paste extruder) mounted on an FDM 3D printer frame depositing chocolate. Chocolate however has to be tempered and this is difficult to do when it is being 3D printed. Even though there was a lot of consumer interest in these stories and many start ups that said they were working on printing food commercialization has been slow. Some candy shops and pastry chains have made food 3D printers available but this seems more geared to generating foot fall than anything else.

If 3D printing chocolate is feasible the issue really with it is to certify the materials, printer and process so that 3D printing chocolate is food safe. This is cost prohibitive and technically could be challenging. Despite this various start ups press ahead with the technology.

3D Printing in Restaurants 

Likewise restaurant chains, individual chefs and technologists have experimented with 3D printing food in restaurants. Often this is a marketing tool as well or at most leads to some intricate looking constructions. The technology is the same paste extruders mounted on FDM printers. Curiously, many cafes have expressed interest in pancake 3D printers and several have come on the market. These simply in one layer deposit pancake batter on a hot plate so its hard to see how this could be classed as a 3D printer. Around the world at several locations you can now order “3D printed pancakes” however. Other 3D printing in restaurant applications use paste extruders to make a wider array of food. A 3D printed food restaurant has opened in London and in the Netherlands although both were popups.

 

3D Printing Food at Home 

Companies have also experimented with concepts that let consumers 3D print food at home. One version of this concept sees people buying vials of paste and extruding them into fun shapes. Another version goes much further and sees the 3D printer as a system for delivering nutrients. In this version the right food with the right amount of nutrients will be mixed in the printer in a unique formula best benefitting one person. This will then be extruded in interesting shapes to keep this super nutritious food interesting. Apart from paste extruders nothing close to this vision is currently on the market.

3D Printing Meat

3D printing meat has also made a lot of headlines. Lab grown meat has been touted as a more ethical and environmentally friendly alternative to animal meat. The way this lab grown meat will then be given shape and texture is through 3D printing. It is early days yet for lab grown meat with a Kilo of the stuff initially costing $20,000. It is also unclear if consumers will take through lab grown meat. One problem: the fact that everyone refers to it as lab grown meat which is a super unappealing term. In future this could be a very efficient solution to providing meat to a growing planet.

3D Printing Food Molds 

We’ve spoken about 3D printing molds before. We think that for the food and food processing industry this is the best near term opportunity for them. Rather than having to industrialize a completely new industrial process this lets companies quickly implement a cost effective solution that fits into their process. The positive for a food mold is printed in a unique or small series shape. This is then cast using silicone. The silicone mold can be made food safe and fits into the company’s existing process. This has been done before and is a quick and cost effective way for companies to use 3D printing in their process.