Rapid Prototyping Food
With ever decreasing prices for 3d printers, more and more sophisticated CAD software and the endless increase of hardware processing power, the prototyping craft and industry has come a long way since the invention of rapid prototyping in in 1970s and 1980s. Nowadays, the better known rapid prototyping techniques like stereolithography apparatus (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS) or three-dimensional printing (3DP) are not just common in traditionally well-known industries for rapid prototyping, like the aerospace or automotive sectors, but have a growing popularity in newly popular sectors like solar energy, where printed solar cells could provide electrical power to 1.3 billion people in developing countries.
Overview of Rapid Prototyping in the Food Industry
With the food industry, there are particularly 2 fields where rapid prototyping and 3d printing play a prominent role:
- Food & beverage packaging prototypes.
- Food prototyping and producing.
Rapid Prototyping food and beverage packaging
Although rapid prototyping different packaging for food and beverage before going into full scale production is not as common as in the automotive and aerospace industries, but, according to experts, companies are catching up very fast. It is shocking how fast and economically competitive it is to rapid prototype a food packaging compared to traditional means. Using higher quality commercial 3d printers, you can create prototypes that, once labeled, are hard to recognize from real packaging.
Since product packaging is one of the most important aspects of marketing a product, food and beverage companies increasingly recognize how vital 3D printing can be in today’s competitive markets. Adjustments to 3D printed prototypes are very fast and easy, giving a company enough time to make the necessary alterations, without crossing deadlines.
Considering the recent and future estimated drops in 3d printing prices, a promised 3d hardware revolution may be at hand, where the economic benefits of 3d printing for rapid prototyping techniques will be so much, that even low cost and fast prototyping jobs, like food and beverage packaging, will say goodbye to their traditional prototyping methods and embrace the future.
According to Ronan Ye, managing director at 3E-RP, “The 3D printing technology (additive manufacturing), is still young, compared to well established rapid prototyping techniques like CNC prototyping or pressure die casting. The growing demand for 3D printing, even for consumer ready food, and the game changing impact that is attributed to it, are just the tip of the iceberg of what we expect in the near future.”
3D Printed Food
One of the more interesting and new areas of 3D printing is printed food. While we might not be very far from kitchen machines that rapidly produce our wildest, most delicious dreams with the push of a button, 3D printed food has a more strategic advantage that could help reduce global warming and humanity’s growing dilemma of low natural resources.
How 3D Printed Food Could Be in Every Kitchen in Near Future
Every chef has to strike a balance between “How to please the eye and the mouth at the same time”. Normally, humans sight and smell senses play nicely together, but pleasing the eye at the same time can be difficult and 3D printers try to fill this gap.
One of the first projects that promised 3D food for every kitchen was Foodini. It was successfully introduced by Natural Machine on Kickstarter in 2014. According to the company, their product is a 3D food printer, named Foodini. The 3D printer will be an open capsule model, meaning the consumer prepares and places fresh ingredients into Foodini and the machine will do the rest. They say that Foodini is capable of printing all types of real, fresh, nutritious foods, from savory to sweet.
Bocusini is another 3D food printer with WIFI and a supporting internet platform. They also have been successfully supported on Kickstarter and have already shipped their first prototypes. There are already more than 30 recipes for this 3D printer that cover a wide range from confectionary, bakery, dairy, meat and fruit to vegetables.
3D Printers, the Dawn of Captain Planet?
From a more general perspective, the production of food itself bears a number of challenge:
- Global warming and the production of greenhouse gases.
- Population growth and an ever increasing demand for better nutrition.
- An increasing consciousness for a fair treatment of livestock.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) states that currently, livestock is generating about 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The growing world population makes this situation only worse.
The growing need for food production is also related to the deterioration of the livestock treatment. Today’s more and more educated societies are asking for better treatment of the animals and more transparency about the process of converting livestock into food.
Companies like Modern Meadow are actively aiming for artificially created protein through 3D printing. The company was founded in 2011 with the vision to create artificial meat and sustainable animal materials.
Some Applications of 3D Printed Food
Here are a few interesting ways 3D printers can be used in near future:
- Modern Food Designs: Some designs and structures are difficult or even impossible to achieve with food. Modern prototyping techniques, especially 3D printing, allow us to create nearly any imaginable design with food. While 3D printed food is still not as much delicious as the handcraft of a chef, but its pleasures for the eye are so much that one could already forget about the shortcomings in taste.
- Food for the Elderly: Until now, old people with chewing and swallowing problems had to eat the same puree, just in different flavors, again and again. This was also the case for people with Cerebral Palsy, stroke victims, and other disabilities that may impair swallowing. But with companies like Biozoon and cuisines like Smoothfood, the play field has changed altogether.
- Food Printing in Space: Maybe you haven’t been in space, but chances are that you have already read about freeze-dried foods. NASA is now actively looking for ways to 3D print food in space. Their first project: A 3D food printer for pizza.