July 22, 2014

U.S. Army researchers are investigating ways to use 3D printing to produce food for soldiers. Their mission is to advance novel food technologies to make them suitable for military field feeding needs, according to Lauren Oleksyk of Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC).

The Army researchers expect that 3D printed food could eventually reduce costs since all food can be printed on demand. They have visited the nearby the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory to discuss the feasibility of using 3D printing to produce innovative military rations.

Oleksyk believes her team is the first to investigate how 3D printing of food could be used to meet Soldiers' needs.

"We have a three-year shelf-life requirement for the MRE [Meal Ready-to-Eat]," Oleksyk said. "We're interested in maybe printing food that is tailored to a Soldier's nutritional needs and then applying another novel process to render it shelf stable, if needed."

The 3D printing method can be used to manufacture complex multi-material products, simply by using a separate print head. To print food, there are cartridges filled with ingredients that will be deposited layer upon layer. 3D food printing opens the way to fully customizable nutrition and help to convert alternative ingredients into tasty products that are not only good for health but also for the environment.

Oleksyk said they are looking at ultrasonic agglomeration, which produces compact, small snack-type items. Combining 3D printing with this process could yield a nutrient-dense, shelf-stable product.

Army food technologists hope to 3D print nutrient-rich foods that can be consumed in a warfighter-specific environment, on or near the battlefield.

"If you are lacking in a nutrient, you could add that nutrient. If you were lacking protein, you could add meat to a pizza," Oleksyk said.

"Another potential application may be 3-D printing a pizza, baking it, packaging it and putting it in a ration," she said.

In the future, making something from scratch may have a completely different meaning.

"We are thinking as troops move forward, we could provide a process or a compact printer that would allow Soldiers to print food on demand using ingredients that are provided to them, or even that they could forage for," Oleksyk said. "This is looking far into the future."

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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Mike Hunt wrote at 7/22/2014 1:32:44 PM:

Cellulose, virgin wood pulp, is already added to food as an inexpensive filler. Printed foods can also add various medications not only for fighting forces but the poor and elderly. We wind up with the potential for inexpensive vitamin and medicine fortified food stuffs with the potential for very large corporate profits. This will not be abused.

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