Aug 1, 2016 | By Tess

While we can make reservations to eat at a limited number of restaurants to try 3D printed foods, additively manufactured technologies have yet to really take off within people’s home kitchens and have remained relatively niche. A team of researchers and engineers from Columbia University in New York City are hoping to change all that, however, by developing a stylish and functional home food 3D printer.

The research team, led by mechanical engineering professor Hod Lipson who works in the areas of artificial intelligence and digital manufacturing at Columbia Engineering, is in the process of developing a 3D food printer capable not only of creating nutritional, and beautifully composed edibles, but also capable of cooking the ingredients. So far, the team has adequately showcased that their 3D printer is capable of extruding foods, and now the remaining task is to perfect the cooking mechanism, which will be achieved with the integration of an infrared heating element.

Also notable about the food 3D printer is its sleek, minimal, and compact design. The machine’s design, which would seamlessly fit in next to a state-of-the-art blender or coffee machine, was conceived of by industrial design graduate student Drim Stokhuijzen and undergraduate student Jerson Mezquita. Within the modern design, a robotic arm is equipped with eight slots that can fit frozen food cartridges, and will soon also be equipped with a cooking element. From a design perspective as well, the machine’s clear exterior allows users to clearly visualize the food printer at work.

Hod Lipson

According to Lipson, 3D printed food is just the next step for the ever-growing technology. He explains, “It touches on something that’s very basic to our lives. We’ve been cooking forever, but if you think about it, while technology and software have wormed their way into almost every aspect of our lives, cooking is still very, very primitive—we still cook over an open flame, like our ancestors millennia ago. So this is one area where software has not yet permeated. And when software touches something, it takes off.”

Of course, the 3D food printer is not meant to replace more traditional cooking methods and processes, but to open the doors to new cooking techniques and nutritional possibilities. To fully explore the potentials of the technology, the engineering team has also been working with the International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York and its director of food technology Chef Hervé Malivert. Together, they have organized a number of workshops to test what kinds of new ingredients can be used, what new textures and combinations can be achieved, and what the design potentials are.

The mutually beneficial collaboration has helped Malivert to introduce his students to new directions in food technology and has allowed Lipson to develop the food 3D printer with expert culinary input. Lipson said of the collaboration, “The engineers have tackled how 3D printing works, but now we turn to the kitchen experts to face the creative question of what can be made.”

From the workshops, not only were the design boundaries of the technology tested and pushed, but its potential applications became more apparent as well. While Lipson would hope for every household kitchen to one day have its own food 3D printer, Malivert thinks that they could be especially beneficial in contexts like nursing homes and hospitals. This is because with customizable ingredients and controllable designs, the 3D food printer could open the doors for creating healthy and nutritious foods that account specifically for what some people may need.

As the engineering team continues to work on its 3D food printer prototype, they are hopeful that a faster and more accurate version of their current model will be ready by the end of the year. They are also hopeful that they will have achieved an integrated cooking process for the printer by then as well. According to Lipson, the printer will be able to cook ingredients at varying temperatures and for different durations, making for a really customizable cooking process.

If you’re wondering how this will work, a special software program that will be able to control these various aspects is being developed by Eitan Grinspun, a professor of Computer Science. As one can imagine, regular 3D modeling software can only go so far with 3D printed food, so a whole new system is being devised that will be able to account for more culinary terms and methods such as layering, coating, sprinkling, mixing, etc. Additionally, the software being created by Grinspun will also be able to predict what a 3D printed food item will look like once it has been cooked at a certain temperature for a specified amount of time.

While it may still be some time before 3D food printers are a commonplace appliance in household kitchens, the Columbia University-led project marks a promising advancement in the field of 3D printed food, a field which offers benefits in terms of controlling dietary needs, and saving energy and food transport costs. We can only begin to imagine the potentials of a 3D printer that can both print and cook foods at controlled settings and can’t wait to see the next iteration of Lipson’s team’s 3D food printer.



Posted in 3D Printer



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MIchele wrote at 11/5/2017 9:54:38 AM:

what about personalisation? one can connect this to AI and program the device to print a unique perosnalised composition (nutritional personalisation, taste, ...)

mick wrote at 8/2/2016 6:09:26 PM:

Eduardo, I agree Sure this is fun, but really is there a future in this? What worry's me is the material (FOOD) that's needed for printing is a paste. The food needs to be highly processed to be consistent to extrude "can you say cheese Whiz". With all we know about process foods is that a viable product or just a novelty?

Eduardo wrote at 8/2/2016 4:25:46 AM:

3D printed food would be considered junk food. Good looking junk food.

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