The world of 3D printing has been experimenting with all sorts of materials for a while, and with innovations specific to 3D Food Printers, they offered the promise of soon becoming widely used by lay people for everyday purposes.
Now, with researchers from the University of Exeter and University of Brunel, in collaboration with software developer Delcam, having produced a printer that is able to manufacture three-dimensional personalized chocolate objects, the reality of printing out your own decadent delicacies takes on an entirely new level.
The research that has gone into developing this printer and the interface software is part of the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Digital Economy Programme supporting research to understand how the novel design and use of digital technologies can contribute to an innovative, healthy economy and inclusive society.
The technology is being positioned as “the future of gift shopping”, and is all set to provide a much-needed boost to the retail and manufacturing industries.
Why Chocolate ?
Dr. Liang Hao of the University of Exeter, who led the research project, said that the team chose to work with the cocoa-based consumable because it was accessible and had fewer consequences when making mistakes.
Additionally, of course, it is chocolate, and its mass appeal cannot be denied.
Dr Liang Hao, talking about the endless possibilities offered by the chocolate printer said, "What makes this technology special is that users will be able to design and make their own products. In the long term it could be developed to help consumers custom-design many products from different materials but we’ve started with chocolate as it is readily available, low cost and non-hazardous. There is also no wastage as any unused or spoiled material can be eaten of course! From reproducing the shape of a child’s favourite toy to a friend’s face, the possibilities are endless and only limited by our creativity".
On the down side, chocolate, intrinsically being not an easy material to work with, developing the printer required a great deal of accuracy where the heating and cooling cycles were concerned. These variables then needed to be integrated with the correct flow rates for the 3D printing process.
The researchers report that they overcame these difficulties with the development of new temperature and heating control systems.
The layering principle that the printer works on also has some limitations, and creating overhanging areas can become difficult.
But the future potential far outweighs these limitations, with the technology also offering the option of printing on top of many existing products, including large solid blocks of chocolate and cakes or biscuits.
What this means is that a significant amount of time and expense could be saved by using this printing technology for the finer, more intricate details of products.
The research team is now looking to develop a consumer interface where people, while being able to browse through creations of other users, will be able to upload their own chocolate designs for 3D printing and delivery.
Chief Executive of EPSRC Professor Dave Delpy said about the future offered by this technology; "This is an imaginative application of two developing technologies and a good example of how creative research can be applied to create new manufacturing and retail ideas.
“By combining developments in engineering with the commercial potential of the digital economy we can see a glimpse into the future of new markets – creating new jobs and, in this case, sweet business opportunities," he added.
images courtesy epsrc.ac.uk