A number of groups are at work trying to bring 3D printing technology to the food service industry, but thus far, most of those efforts have been aimed at high-end diners and driven by "celebrity chefs" and chocolatiers looking to customize their offerings.
But now Crafty Machines Ltd., a small shop located in Leicester, UK, has produced a machine they hope will pick up the pace when it comes to delivering customized food products.
It's essentially a 3D 'forming rig' which has been experimentally attached to a food extruder pump. The idea is that, with the addition of a series of 3D printed die elements, the machine is capable of extruding 3D shaped objects at a continuous, high-speed rate per piece.
Think hundreds of little 3D printed edible bread loaves shaped like guns. Or maybe thousands of candies in the shape of small battleships. The butter pats on your plate? They could be printed out to look like tiny sailboats at the next meeting of your yacht club.
Jan Andrzejewski, of Formation Prototypes Ltd. and Crafty Machines Ltd., says that by quickly printing out a set of wheels, a new product can be swiftly created and readied for delivery to customers.
According to Andrzejewski, he and his team are currently in the process of building a bigger version of the device, and he adds that refinements to the process will result in better accuracy and less "flashing" of the completed treats.
A combination of subtractive and additive manufacturing techniques, Andrzejewski says the dies are printing using FDA-approved food safe material which makes them suitable for creating a wide range of food products. He says his team has already completed trial runs using ice cream, chocolate, cereals and, in the interested of demonstrating the capabilities of the machine, Play Dough.
He adds that his team is testing the latest rig for trials aimed at using it in the cosmetics industry.
So how does it work?
Andrzejewski says that six wheels, each with a different mold cavity, rotate in synchronization as nearly any malleable material is extruded into the center and shaped by the forms. As each wheel includes six cavities along the wheel arrangement, he says it's not out of the realm of the possible that each piece output – in this case Teddy Bears – could have its arms, legs or other details in six different positions.
"Other non food materials are also being considered," Andrzejewski says. "New design wheels are 3D printed – quickly. We call this 'Crafty tech'; the application of some cunning device or principle to greatly simplify the complexity of the solution required."