May 4, 2016 | By Alec

It looks like 3D printing is hot right now at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. Just last month, they announced plans for an industrial spare part 3D printing network, while VTT researchers have just revealed that they are also working on a completely different 3D printing project. In an attempt to promote healthy eating, they are exploring the development of custom 3D printed snacks that are packed with additional nutrients.

These new efforts have been underway for some time, with the first 3D printing tests already completed. As the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland reveals, they are responding to a desire for healthier snacks that are appealing for both their texture and taste. And their plans are ambitious, as the VTT researchers have a long-term vision of high-tech 3D printing vending machines that produce customized and nutritious treats at a moment’s notice.

With these efforts, the Finnish researchers say, they are trying to enable snacks to meet customer expectations. Design, taste, playfulness and texture are all elements that customers are looking for nowadays. “Self-production would enable customization in addition to these [features]. 3D printing technology offers new opportunities to realize such expectations,” they explain.

Their initial tests have focused on texture, with starch and cellulose-based materials being 3D printed alongside vegetable (oat and fava bean) and dairy (whey) protein. While it’s not something you think about often, texture is in fact one of the main drivers behind taste perception. Many popular foods playfully combine various different textures to realize fantastic combinations; just think about chocolate eggs with a solid outer layer and soft centers, or crunchy toppings on your ice cream. 3D printing, the Finnish researchers say, has the ability to combine those various textures in a single bite thanks to its layered production process.

But we don’t have to expect 3D printing vending machines in the near future. According to VTT Principal Scientist Nesli Sözer, they are still in the early stages of development. “A great deal of work is needed in order to proceed to industrial-scale production. Equipment needs to be developed in addition to materials. Such equipment could be developed for domestic 3D food printing as well as vending machines,” he says.

But with this latest food 3D printing research, they are also building on other ongoing research projects by VTT. Among others, they are coordinating a food 3D printing project in collaboration with Aalto University and funded by Tekes. That project is focusing on improving the flow properties of multi-textured food structures and on decreasing hardware costs. Specifically, they hope to create new ingredient mixes that optimize flow properties and can be used to give Finnish industries a competitive position in the food 3D printing market. A lot can thus be expected of VTT in the near future.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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