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The 3D Printer has a Bright Future Making Unique Chocolates
Chocolate lovers around the world may be able to make or request their own unique 3D chocolate creations. At the University of Exeter in the UK a 3D printer has been modified to squirt chocolate instead of instead of ink or plastic, allowing personalised 3D designs to be made to order. Chocolate is good for you and healthy.
3D printing is already widely used in industry using inks, metals and plastic to greatly speed up design work, develop prototypes and increasingly in manufacturing.
Like any other 3D printing job, the process starts with a flat 2D cross-section image similar to a standard photocopy page or a color printer. To move to a 3D shape, the object is built up layer by layer, printing chocolate instead of ink to create a 3D shape.
In a sense it is the opposite of a computer driven multi-dimensional lathe that cuts-out a 3D shape from a starting block. As each layer is squirted, time is required to allow the chocolate layer to solidify, and then the machine moves on to the next layer.
Shape, Size and Taste
This was far from the first attempt to develop what was called `food printers`. In 2010, a group of researchers at Cornell University in the US developed a more complicated prototype machine and liquefied foods as inks to create artificial foods. The idea was to insert the raw food "inks" into the top of the machine, load the recipe as a computer program (FabApps) and the machine would do the rest - Roast Lamb with potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and peas.
The inkjet printer process is already being applied for creating solar cells and for all sorts of other processes (see - Solar Paints, Films and Coatings - Turning the Dream into Reality).
The advantages of such as system is that it would allow the manufacturer to change and personalise your food to the texture, taste, color and other properties. This is the stuff of science fiction where you press a button and the entire meal is produced from raw ingredients.
This offers major advantages as people lacking even basic culinary skills could download the recipes files and print out the meals they want - just the way they want them. There are various ways of melting chocolate to feed into the machine
It would have major advantages of generating fresh food on demand and cutting out the huge waste and disposal requirements in preparing pre-packaged foods. Think of the savings in terms of packaging and transport and having to go to the supermarket every day. Local food, would really mean `local` - home grown on demand.
You could use a 3D printer to make homemade apple pie, just like your mum used to make, avoiding the requirement for farming the apples, fertilizing the trees, harvesting and storing the apples, packaging, refrigerating, storage, fabricating, cooking, serving and transporting processes including trucks, cars, pans, coolers, etc.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - the Fab@home team is actively developing an affordable 3D printer fitted with a bank of syringes containing the food ingredients and 'inks' to print a wide range of foods. A computer drive process selects the various syringes that squirt the food inks single line by single line, and one layer at a time, from a computer program.
The raw materials used for the printing with these machines are restricted to substances that can be liquefied, make in suspension, extruded from a syringe and solidified as the layers are added. Usually they are melted or liquid versions of ingredients such as batter, cookie dough, cheese, chocolate, dairy products and cake batter. Oddly there are other moves to liquefy foods so everything can be eaten with a straw - Cheeseburger, fries and shake - all in a liquid pack, like a milk drink (see - Food Smoothies Liquefied Meals to Go)
Making 3D chocolates is not as easy and making the printing process work involves careful control of all key parameters, such as temperature, interaction between ingredients and delays between layered. One advantages of chocolate its that it can be squirted as a hot liquid and then cooled to solidify with other ingredients embedded in it.
Once the prototype 3D chocolate printer becomes a reality, it could find a role in restaurant for producing boutique desserts and personalised chocolates in the food industry.
All sorts of design options are possible from 3D heads to animals and various other objects.
Chocolate making may set to enter the internet. In the future there may be chocolate design and manufacturing websites. When you think about it the range of chocolates - their size, shape and taste are rather limited.
This technology could greatly expand the variety of chocolates available and offer the truly personal and unique design. There may be scope for a social community based on chocolate where people could go to the website share their designs, ideas, tastes and preferences with other chocoholics worldwide.
Perhaps 3D printing will do for food manufacturing what instant messaging, Twitter and e-mail did for communication. Wouldn't it be marvelous if you could send mom's fabulous homemade apple pie sent via e-mail as a program and have someone else print it up to a 3D item? Mum's apple pie could become very similar an instant message on Facebook that you could eat.
© 2011 Dr. John Anderson