We did an episode a week or two ago on food 3D printing coming out of CES and on an article you wrote for your Inc. column “By Design.” We have had some more people write in with questions about that. The question was: “Are there really any countertop, less expensive food 3D printers, in particular chocolate printers?” I can totally understand because the idea of making lacy chocolate designs and other intricate things that are hard to do by hand sounds great. How fun would that be? Besides, it’s chocolate. Who doesn’t want chocolate? So I can totally understand the question.
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Are There Countertop Food 3D Printers?
CocoJet was publicized for quite a while. It was more like sugar and chocolate mixed together. It wasn’t what we think of as chocolate, like Ghirardelli. But it was still cool. But the CocoJet is part of the 3D Systems food printing that we talked about and wrote about.
I remember seeing that CocoJet display at CES in 2015, more than a year ago. It really looked like a modified Cube. It was a modified Cube. It went the way of the Cube, and it won’t be coming out. But I know their printers are supposed to be capable of doing all types of foods because they are much more commercially-based, more for professional chefs. They will be capable of chocolate, and I have seen some of the images that they have; they are definitely doing sweet things.
But unfortunately, 3D Systems is really focusing on that commercial market for the food 3D printing. They will not be there for the average person I guess. When I interviewed them, they said that it wasn’t off the table, the idea of a personal countertop 3D printer version of it. But their priority was getting out the more commercial-grade and getting the FDA approval and all of that on the industrial model.
Thinking about it like this, I’m sure KitchenAid mixers, that kind of heavy-duty, industrial style came out of commercial kitchens and then moved into home kitchens. I’m sure it will happen. But it won’t be a low price point; it will be a premium.
I would be very surprised if in 2016, before the end of this year, we don’t see some other company pick up the ball and run in that open field that 3D Systems seems to be leaving there. While I’m sure that 3D Systems are perfecting what will be the best food 3D printer on the market with their commercial printers, there are a lot of things that people would enjoy doing, even with a slightly lower quality, more consumer level printer.
Because I have done some research on this—and not a lot, mind you, so if anybody knows somebody who is working on 3D printers behind the scenes—what I have seen is there are kits. If you want to build your own 3D printer, there are spritz makers. A cookie press style, or a syringe-style piece that fits onto the extruder and melts the chocolate at a certain pace. It does sugar like that. So there are those out there, but they are really DIY systems. They’re hacked and not that reliable, but I’m sure they are fairly sanitary.
I wouldn’t worry about that; it is food. As long as you’re not running plastic and then food through your machine, it’s just food and plastic or metal. I think it’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. People are worried about FDA approval. I don’t think it is really necessary for all applications. Nine times out of ten, nobody eats the decorations on the cakes anyway. Can you imagine on a wedding cake people actually eating the decorations? No, you pull them off, throw them on the plate, and cut the cake. That’s just the way it works. In this case, I’m not worried, but I think it’s fun.
We have that cool video in our 3D Print Inspiration playlist on YouTube of a chocolate mug being printed. We also have the one of the spritz cookies. I think that takes a whole lot longer, so I would much rather bake them and punch them in the cookie press myself. I think it’s fun and interesting. I do agree with you that someone is going to come and fill that space, and I can’t wait for it.
If you’re out there and working on it, Tom and I and Alexandra, our daughter, would like to be your first review. Send it our way. We will try it.
Someone just has to do it. And that has such wide mass appeal across consumers, to be doing different things with baking.
There are a lot of other things going on in food printing. The military is experimenting with food printing. Our marketing assistant, Grace, listens to our podcasts every time they air to make sure we didn’t miss something because we get a little lazy sometimes not wanting to listen to ourselves the second time after we’ve had it edited. So she listens to it after it’s edited and makes sure it still sounds good. She will put out our social media for it when we get busy.
Anyway, Grace pointed this out to us, which I thought was such a cool article. I really want to point it out to everybody. Grace’s husband is deployed. This has to do with MRE’s, which are Meals Ready to Eat. It sounds horrible in and of itself. When you think about it, when you deploy a large amount of soldiers, you can’t bring a kitchen with you. I should say that Grace’s husband is not deployed into a zone in which he has to be eating MRE’s. I’m sure he is very happy with the commissary where he is. But we have other family members in the military who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan who have to eat these meals at times. And you have to eat them when you go out on routines.
How does this relate to 3D printing? There is an article that just came out (link in our show notes) that says the Army’s Soldier Research and Development Engineering Center, which is in Natick, Massachusetts, sort of near Boston, my original stomping grounds, has been working on and researching ways to use 3D printing to make future MRE’s. How are they going to do that? They don’t talk about the logistical details of it because you have soldiers out in combat operations. How are you going to print 3D meals for them? Are you going to bring a printer with you?
If I understand, MRE’s are like hockey pucks. They are edible. But they are freeze-dried, so you add water and they turn into food. I don’t even think you have to always add water. I thought you opened up your packet, added water, and ate it out of the packet. I could be wrong. You don’t have to do preparation.
Here is what they are saying. They are hoping this will be ready for deployment by 2025, so we are talking about ten years out here. The big thing this Christmas was Fitbits, wearables. Soldiers are going to have wearable technology that measures every soldier’s individual physiology and then with food 3D printers, they are saying future MRE’s are going to be automatically generated that have been tailored for that soldier’s individual nutritional needs on the fly in the field. Wow.
I can see it happening. You could have a 3D printer at your commissary area. When you go out on assignment, you take your MRE’s at that moment. But if you were going to be ID printed and screened before you deploy, your nutrition changes all the time. It would have to be flexible. They would have to find a way to do it on a daily or weekly basis. I don’t know. Maybe they are meaning that every soldier has different physiology and different body chemistry. You’re light on this, so you need more of this. You’re heavily fatigued, so you need more of this. It has to be over a longer period of time. I can’t imagine they are printing the meal an hour before you’re going to eat it.
But I can imagine that they check you as you enter in and get deployed, and you’re stuck with that the whole six months you’re out on the field. That would be terrible because we know from our brother-in-law who comes back and is thinner; he is not the same physical shape that he was when he left.
When you think about it, 3D printing really does make sense if it’s feasible. The idea being that you have different nutritional supplements or whatever goes into the food to tailor it to your needs, to have it all be in a 3D printer and then extrudes, injects into the food. It can on the fly change those nutrients and supplements to different amounts as it’s printed for you. So it’s sort of like customized fast food. Maybe they can make it taste better. That would be nice. I’ve heard it tastes bad. That would be great. Add some flavor in there. Or make it taste more like your cultural flavor.
That’s another consideration. If you’re checking them for nutritional levels, why not check them for taste levels? Make them feel more at home. If you’re used to Latin cuisine or Cajun cuisine, maybe that’s printed for you. That I could really see being cool. When we were doing studies on what made people in long-term-assignment situations in space with NASA, anything from home, anything that smelled, felt, or tasted like home was so much better. If you could add that in, that would be so cool. If I were them, I would roll it out with the space station before this. Try it out there. See what they think.
As the question came from some listeners about food 3D printing, there are a lot of things to consider. This happened to be a timely article talking about the same thing. Worth spending a few minutes on today.
I still think 3D printing is a hot category that is really being overlooked. You have all these different 3D printer companies. Remember we did that podcast on 3D printer overload and 926 printers in one directory we know of. My goodness. All those people focusing on going after the same market when there is this wide open territory in desktop food 3D printing that nobody is addressing. Maybe it’s a little difficult because of the materials not just on the shelf like PLA is, but you know what? I think you’d have a ton of regular people getting into 3D printing if they could do it. I could see it on the shelf at Michael’s and Jo-Ann’s. It’d be quite something. I look forward to that and hope it will happen.
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