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The idea of 3D-printed food came in or around 2011 when Hod Lipson and his team at Cornell University produced some crude but intriguing examples. The team showed that it was possible to use a syringe-based material extrusion-based 3D printer to deposit cheese, peanut butter, chocolate, and other types of foods. The objects clearly demonstrated the concept.
In 2014, 3D Systems introduced its ChefJet 3D printer for making candy and other food items. Some time later, the machine was quietly removed from the market after the company found that few people wanted it.
On Friday, I attended the First International Symposium on Precision Nutrition and Food 3D Printing Science and Technology in Beijing, China. The event was the first of its type. Prof. Jack Zhou of Drexel University co-organized it with Hong Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, which is China’s version of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I wanted to attend the event to better understand where the technology and its application might go in the future. Few in attendance had combined expertise in nutrition, food, and 3D printing technology. The disciplines are currently pretty far apart, but they are slowly coming together, as illustrated in the following.
Potential market opportunities are specialty food products such as custom chocolates and candies for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and special corporate events. At the conference, the following edible items were each printed in a few minutes each. The Wohlers Associates logo (left) was printed using a mixture of white beans, starch, sugar, and water. The decorative pancake at the right tasted surprisingly good.
The 3D printing of food may be a solution looking for a problem. Applying nutrition to the concept may have merit. Making soft foods for babies and the elderly is a potential area of development, although I am not convinced that 3D printing offers an advantage. Maybe. At the conference, it was decided to form an international association on the subject. After dinner on Friday, many of the organizers and attendees met to initiate the new organization. We will see if it can help take the 3D printing of food to a new level.
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