Hungry? 3D print your Meal

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We have discussed 3D printing and its application in our previous blogs Taming 3D Printing Inventions, Organ Failure? Print a New One and 3D Printed Skin can help Robots Feel. But what’s your take on 3D printing food? 3D printing… (Featured image is only for representational purpose and has been sourced from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fab@Home_Model_2_3D_printer.jpg). This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

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We have discussed 3D printing and its application in our previous blogs Taming 3D Printing Inventions, Organ Failure? Print a New One and 3D Printed Skin can help Robots Feel. But what’s your take on 3D printing food?

3D printing technology has wowed people for years but can you imagine sitting down to a meal in a restaurant of entirely 3D printed food? Food Ink is the world’s first restaurant with produce made entirely from 3D printing. The restaurant utilizes 3D printers produced by a Dutch company byFlow to create dishes out of hummus, chocolate mousse, smashed peas, goat cheese, pizza dough or anything that can take the form of a paste.

There is ample research happening in this space, with several interesting patents being filed; such as US 20160135493 A1 and US 6280785 B1. These patents describe a method of fabricating a food object in a layer-by-layer manner. They also disclose the design and working of a 3D printer with regard to its selection of ingredients from multiple capsules during the additive manufacturing process.

Logic flow diagram of a routine stored in a 3D printer system (from patent application US 20160135493 A1)

Commercial 3D printers include systems like Foodini that come with empty stainless steel capsules which can be filled with ingredients. Then there are other printers such as the Bocusini that require pre-filled cartridges, just like a 2D paper printer at home. These printers provide easy-to-use software to draw whatever the user wants to print. These 3D printers can then print complicated food sculpture and beautiful decorations while ensuring optimum use of ingredients in a short span of time and with minimal human effort.

TNO Institute, an independent research organization has completed successful 3D printing of food projects that can revolutionize food manufacturing.

Portability and on-demand nutrients provided by 3D-printed food make this technology invaluable during times of disaster. Researchers at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia are looking into the possibilities of feeding patients infected by dysphagia using printed food that is of an appropriate texture suitable to these patients.  One of the best examples is a 3D printed carrot made for retirement homes in Germany. Carrots are hard to chew and swallow for elderly people and this printed version serves the purpose for them. U.S military plans to use 3D printing to ease the process of meal preparation on the battlefield, with customized nutrients.

3D printing is also on its way to tackle the problem of transporting food to space. NASA is looking to enhance its life support systems, including the possibility of 3D printing meals for astronauts during long-term space missions. NASA has endorsed a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract to Systems and Materials Research Corporation (SMRC) to study the feasibility of 3D printing food in space. The space organization is funding this phase I six-month $125,000 study on 3D printing of foods to determine the capability to enable nutrient stability and provide a variety of foods, while minimizing crew time and waste. MRC has already come up with a system to print pizza out of a combination of powders containing necessary nutrients.

While 3D food printing is fantastic in more complex cooking scenarios and is on its way to becoming a revolutionizing invention, there are still many challenges that need to be addressed. 3D printing a whole meal takes a lot of time, thus making it slow for mass production. Besides, many 3D food printers are not yet certified for food production. In fact, in some countries it has been made illegal to 3D print food, especially to share or sell it to others.

A major challenge that 3D food printing researchers need to tackle is the concept of cooking food. 3D printers extract raw material from capsules and prepare the base. For instance, the printer uses the dough paste to create a pizza base, the ketchup for topping, etc. But the challenge of baking it remains unresolved for now, requiring human intervention.

3D food printing has come a long way over recent years, but it’s still finding its feet. However, in terms of working towards making food production more efficient and increasingly sustainable, there are certainly signs of that being achieved through the 3D food printing realm. The day is not too far when these printers will become a common sight in kitchens. Until then, happy cooking!

(Featured image is only for representational purpose and has been sourced from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fab@Home_Model_2_3D_printer.jpg). This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

Sutanter Rishi
Sutanter Rishi

Sutanter is a patent engineer with special interests in patentability searches. He is an avid follower of developments in electronics. He also enjoys playing football and watching movies.


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