Aug. 29, 2014 | By Alec

Producing actual edible and long-lasting food is still one of the greatest challenges in the world of 3D printing, even though that technology has fascinated scientists since the replicator was first featured in Star Trek. Some excellent initiatives have been made, but the various ingredients and the cooking phase still remain difficult hurdles for engineers to overcome. Finally, to make a 3D food printer commercially viable, the printed meals need to be at least somewhat tasty and recognizable to the public.

While a replicator-like kitchen device is therefore still a long way away, important steps in that direction have been made by four undergraduate students in London for a final project. These four mechanical engineering students (Hillel Baderman, Jacob Watfa, Francis Nwobu, and James Clarke) from the Imperial College London, have utilized and modified existing 3D printing technology to construct the F3D printer – pronounced as 'fed' – a 3D printer that is capable of printing one of the most tasty and recognizable meals we know: the pizza.

As the photographs illustrate, this doesn't yet spell disaster for the pizzeria industry. The completed F3D printer can only combine three different products to make its pizza: Masa Harina dough, tomato puree and cream cheese. It can however, print the ingredients out of three different extrusion points and cook this culinary creation within 20 minutes. And, in another test, it was able to print and bake its own name in cookies. (See the video) Finally, and equally impressive, the entire F3D printer was built with a budget of just £1,200 (less than $2000).

See the F3D printer bake up a batch of original cookies:

Even this relatively simple dish is therefore a ground-breaking development in the field of food printing. The four creators have also published a detailed overview of their production process online, and so it's only a matter of time before others (perhaps large companies) start building on their pizza dish design. As the four pioneering students explain in their paper, their main objective was to 'design, manufacture and test a 3d printer capable of both printing and cooking food rather than traditional thermoplastics. By doing this it would be possible to evaluate the feasibility of 3D food printing. A secondary objective was to investigate several food sources and evaluate their performance when printed.'

And this they have done spectacularly. To realise their F3D, the four students modified existing RepRap 3D printing technology. Just like most 3D printers, the F3D can print STL files that have been generated with CAD software. The printer itself is controlled with a the DUET and DUEX4 bundle, that can be programmed to handle up to five different paste extruders. However, they have also tackled some common problems in food printing like the extrusion points, the suitability of the food and the cooking system.

Having decided to produce a printer capable of operating three extruders, the four students explored a variety of options before settling for a combination of Richard Horne's Universal Paste Extruder, Hod Lipson's Fab@Home paste extrusion system and Thingiverse user keesj's Simple Paste Extruder. This was partly the result of a the confines of their budget and project. As they explained in their paper:

The alternative to this, utilising an airpressure-driven syringe controlled by a series of solenoid valves, has a number of advantages including its compact nature, and greater flexibility. However, standard 3D printing software is written with a mechanical setup in mind, and to alter this would have been time consuming. Furthermore, a little investigation implies that an air pressure system mayalso lie outside of the budget constraints for the project. Thus, a mechanically driven system has been chosen.

This way, they were able to print three different ingredients for a single meal, though this also caused some problems through their development process. Frustratingly, many foods are not currently available as edible and tasty pastes. As they commented in their paper, 'In conclusion, a major difficulty with printing food is the need for it to be in a paste. Currently, foods are not readily available in this form and therefore there is a clear need for development in food processing to support the growth of 3D food printing.' They did, for instance, experiment with making an edible meat paste out of ground lean beef, but the results were not suitable for extrusion and they had to settle for the three remaining ingredients.

But unlike the Foodini 3D food printer, for instance, the F3D also incorporated a cooking system for their pizza. They settled for a system very similar to 1200 to 1400W halogen ovens, which are flexible and compact, and have a very short heat-up and cooking time. It's potency also meant no enclosure design was needed for this model.

While this ground-breaking device does not yet make printed food a feasible reality, the four students from London have nonetheless made an impressive and essential contribution to that process. And as they argue in their paper, an affordable 3D printer capable of printing food could very well tackle a multitude of problems the world's population is currently facing:

3D printing food in the home may permit the individual tailoring of meals to dietary requirements, personal tastes and nutritional needs. The rehydration and printing of long shelf-life, powdered food - essentially eliminating food spoilage - could provide the tools to tackle hunger in the third world. Furthermore, increasing global populations could lead to an increased demand for food. Sustainable, nutritious, alternative foodstuffs such as high protein insect pastes may be the solution to this increased demand, but it may only be by incorporating these into familiar dishes that their perception is changed and their widespread acceptance is seen. In the era of the high-tech home, and in a society where floor space is fast becoming a premium, it is even feasible to see food printers becoming a low cost, low space solution to nutritional needs.

Posted in 3D Printers

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AMnerd wrote at 9/2/2014 12:15:35 PM:

This is beyond useless

qpdb wrote at 8/31/2014 11:08:20 AM:

Looks like foam pizza.. Weird, to say the least. I'd probably still try it.

Marco C. wrote at 8/30/2014 1:15:12 PM:

it's simply horrible that pizza. It's awful also the idea to print a pizza.

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