These days it’s tough to find an industry that isn’t experimenting with 3D printing, and the food industry is no different. Printing customized meals certainly sounds entertaining, but other applications are pushing these bots beyond the simple novelty of robot chefs and into a whole new, well… kitchen.
1. Edible Growth
Just as petroleum-based plastics may soon be replaced with more sophisticated bio-plastics, 3D-printed food may evolve from direct extrusion to a more advanced process. The award-winning Edible Growth project by Chloé Rutzerveld demonstrates this with an edible geometric structure which houses a growth process for one or more organisms. This concept is not unlike 3D-printed bio-scaffolds for growing different types of organs. These “edible ecosystems” are printed whole and then allowed to grow.
2. Fabricated Flapjacks
The PancakeBot is a dedicated machine that allows you to design and print your pancakes. With their open source CAD software PancakePainter, you can import an image or draw your own. You can make pancake portraits of your friends! They probably won’t think that’s weird at all. Whether you love breakfast for breakfast, breakfast for dinner, or breakfast that looks like Chewbacca, you might have a lot of fun with this $300 machine.
3. Printable Pizza
Do you like pizza? How about pizza… in space!? In the interest of their astronauts’ nutritional and psychological wellbeing, NASA has researched food printing for long-term space voyages. Thus, the BeeHex printer was developed in 2013 thanks to NASA’s SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant. According to BeeHex’s Founding CMO Jordan French, the company now focuses on printing Earth-pizza. They plan to hit the market in 2017 with pizza printing kiosks in stadiums, theme parks, and various retailers. The BeeHex features three nozzles (for three ingredients) and a pneumatic delivery system.
4. Plug and Play (with Your Food)
If you already own an FDM-style printer, you can swap out your plastic extruder/hot end assembly for a paste extruder. Printrbot sells a $330 mechanical extruder, designed for the Printrbot Simple.
While they warn that “installation is not trivial,” due to disassembly, rewiring, and loading new firmware onto your Printrboard, the payoff is pretty sweet — you can print materials like chocolate or icing at a steady temperature thanks to the heated syringe.
5. More Accessible Than Ever Before
The PERFORMANCE project (Personalized Food using Rapid Manufacturing for the Nutrition of Elderly Consumers), funded by the European Commission, is an effort to help patients who suffer from dysphagia (difficulty swallowing or chewing) by providing fully customized meals.
Typically, sufferers of dysphagia are restricted to a liquefied food diet of unappetizing purees, but various printing methods, including FDM, SLS, and PBP, are being explored to create specially textured solid foods that look and taste like traditional meals.