RESEARCHERS AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY HAVE DEVELOPED A 3D FOOD PRINTER CAPABLE OF PRINTING AND COOKING MULTIPLE INGREDIENTS AT ONCE
If you are one of those people that are insatiable by technology and it's grave inability to ensure proximity and ease as regards food and consumption, well the joke is on you now, you can now print your food out, no, really you can! Side note, this is a perfect gift for your bachelor friend.
How do 3D printers work? Most 3D printers work by slowly depositing layers of material, one on top of the other, until an object is constructed. The process is called “additive manufacturing,” and it uses deposition printers. Others bind layers together with adhesive — they're called binding printers.
Lipson, a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University, has been studying 3D printing for nearly 20 years, working on printing things like plastics, metals, electronics and bio-materials. His work on 3D food printing came out of his research on printing complete 3D robots that could, in theory, “walk off the printer.”
To achieve something like this, a printer must be able to print with many materials at the same time. While experimenting with making multi-material printers, Lipson noticed the students in his lab were beginning to use food as a test material.
“They were using cookie dough, cheese, chocolate, all kinds of food materials you might find around an engineering lab,” he says. “In the beginning, it was sort of a frivolous thing. But when people came to the lab and looked at it, they actually got really excited by the food printing.”
There are two basic approaches to 3D food printing, Lipson explains. The first involves using powders, which are bound together during the printing process with a liquid such as water. The second—the approach used by Lipson’s lab—is extrusion-based, using syringes that deposit gels or pastes in specific locations determined by the software’s “recipe.” Lipson’s prototype involves an infrared cooking element, which cooks various parts of the printed product at specific times.
Foods are processed at a time due to the fact that the results from the combination of foods can't be predicted. It’s easy enough to create recipes based on single items like chocolate, whose properties are well-established. But when you start to mix things together—mixing, of course, being fundamental to cooking—the mixtures may have much more complex behaviors. Another challenge is figuring out when to cook what during the printing process. If you’re printing a pyramid of salmon and mashed potatoes, the salmon and the potatoes will need very different cooking times and temperatures. The team is tackling this problem with software design, working with computer scientists to create software that will predict what the final product will look like after cooking.
The printer Lipson's team has made is not the only food printer to be developed in recent years. But while products like Hershey’s chocolate-printing CocoJet or the Magic Candy Factory’s 3D gummy printer are single-ingredient, limiting their use for the general public, Lipson’s printer is unique for being able to handle many ingredients at once, and cook them as it goes.
According to Lipson, the printer has two main uses for consumers. First, it could be a specialty appliance for cooking novel foods difficult to achieve by any other process. You could print, say, a complex pastry designed by someone in Japan, a recipe you’d never have the expertise or equipment to make by hand. Lipson says he could imagine digital recipes going viral, spreading across the globe. The second use is about health and targeted nutrition. People are already increasingly interested in personal biometrics, tracking their blood pressure, pulse, calorie burn and more using cell phones and computers. In the future, it may be possible to track your own health in much greater detail—your blood sugar, your calcium needs or your current vitamin D level. The printer could then respond to those details with a customized meal, produced from a cartridge of ingredients.
As for when the printer might be available to consumers, Lipson says it’s more a business challenge than a technology one.
A recent redesign of the prototype may bring the product closer to being something the average consumer would accept. Previous versions of the printer were very high-tech, full of tubes and sticking-out nozzles. People had a hard time imagining it on their kitchen counters. Then, one of Lipson’s students named Drim Stokhuijzen, an industrial designer, completely redesigned the machine, giving it the sleek look of a high-end coffee maker.
“His design is so beautiful people are saying for the first time, ‘oh, I can see the appeal of food printing, this is something I might actually use,’” Lipson says.
Although Lipson doesn’t think 3D food printing will replace other cooking techniques, he does think it will revolutionize the kitchen.
3D food printing is the future of food production and consumption as key players in that industry like TNO (innovation for life), Philips, Electrolux, Barilla, Nestle, NASA, Hershey’s, Modern Meadow, Choc Edge, 3D System, Natural Machines, ZMorph, Fab@Home have taken the trend by the plates. Asides the fact that it saves time and prevents waste, you get to choose the quantity of protein and other classes of food you want present in your meal, great right? Downsides, not all form of ingredients can be processed with the printer, it has to be turned to paste or melted; also it is slow and has to get cold before consumption. Now while taste might not be a positive outlook as regrads this printer, the synergy between food and design and in turn the insustries at large, is something we are excited for.