Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Saturday, December 27, 2014
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Chocolate Craving? Press Print 

When printing entered the 3rd dimension about a decade ago, it escaped the horizontal pulp-laden plain and entered into a world of metal, plastic and ceramic. For the cost (falling) of a 3D printer, one can now create their own jewelry, furniture, lamps, even replacements for lost board game pieces at home. Imagination and printer size are the only limitations.

printed chocolate courtesy EPSRCYet as cool as 3D printing is, it’s about to get even cooler; UK scientists have announced a new medium for the 3D printer: chocolate. Now aspiring chocolate connoisseurs, or anyone really, can create their own designs on a computer and reproduce them in three-dimensional chocolate form.

There have been other attempts at manufacturing food printers, but University of Exeter researchers are on the verge of perfecting the technique. As a medium, chocolate presents unique challenges with regard to temperature control and flow rate; therefore, the development of precise heating and cooling systems was instrumental to the project’s success.

Research lead at the University of Exeter, Dr. Liang Hao, provides additional details:

“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.”

The project is being led by the University of Exeter in collaboration with the University of Brunel and software developer Delcam. The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is overseeing the work and produced a video about the process. In it, the scientists explain that those with a hankering for custom-created chocolate treats will be able to sketch their design with user-friendly design software. A Web-based utility will allow users to choose from an array of designs as well as share their own. The design selection process will result in a 3D CAD file being sent to the appropriate vendor. Depending on the location of the business, the user will be able to pick up their finished confection in-person or will receive it in the post. Chocolate-as-a-Service anyone?

chocolate printer courtesty EPSRCLike other (non-food) forms of 3D printing, the chocolate version will no doubt employ a variety of business models. At the outset, with printer prices out-of-reach to the average consumer, off-site order fulfillment will dominate. But as the cost of the printers comes down, in-home models will become more feasible. Picture the enterprising chocolate-lover who starts their own business concocting custom confections on their very own 3D chocolate printer.

Since the announcement was made at the beginning of July, that leaves seven full months to perfect the technique before the world’s biggest chocolate consumption day: Valentine’s Day. And if a home version of the 3D chocolate printer isn’t ready in time for February 14th, there’s surely some kids out there who would love to design their very own chocolate Easter bunny.

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