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3D printing guide

Pros and cons of 3D food printing

Why would we use 3D printing for food? Is it more relevant for business or people? We often talk about 3D printing as a futuristic technique of the future, but the events of this beginning of the year showed us that it could be useful here and now.

In this article we are going back to the main advantages of food 3D printing. Then we review its limits. The goal is to provide you with a comprehensive overview.

Benefits of Food printing

Food waste reduction

In additive manufacturing, we consume only what is necessary to manufacture the part. Unlike other industrial processes, there is no need to start from a block of material that one comes to dig to obtain the desired shape.

This general consideration applies a little less to food production where the right amount of material is often used. For example if we make a cake dough, we will use almost the entire production by pouring it into molds.

However, kitchens produce a lot of food waste: by overproduction or simply because we eliminate some of the raw ingredients before cooking them (peels, shells, stumps, bones …). This is preparation waste. The management of collective catering waste as well as its treatment and recovery is an important issue.

Recovering organic waste reduces its volume and therefore the cost of disposing of it. How could we do ? For example by integrating waste into a 3D printed paste. It works well for fruit puree or vegetable puree. Another solution: vegetable or fruit waste can be dehydrated and reduced to powder.

Concretely, this implies implementing strict procedures for sorting and collecting waste within the restaurant. The advantage of 3D printing is that you can use your own waste yourself. In the end, the catering establishment does not need to find an external recovery solution.

Freedom of design

If you already have a 3D printer, you already know the pleasure of being able to make (almost) anything and everything. You can also find great freedom in your production with 3D food printing.

However, there are two limits to your imagination:

  • your ability to make the 3D file you need
  • the properties of the material you are printing

At the Digital Pâtisserie, we have chosen to work on all technologies. For instance, we are developping a new powder-based 3D food printer as this removes some of the constraints of the dough that we push in the extruders. The powder acts as a support, allowing a wider variety of 3D models to be printed.

No need for tooling

How many times do you have a new dessert idea that you can’t make because you need to invest in a new mold? We all limit our creativity because we do not have at our disposal the shapes that suit us. The 3D printer makes it possible to forget the majority of these constraints. One of the biggest benefits of 3D food printing is making an edible shape food without going through the mold stage.

Time savings

In addition to the savings in tools, the 3D printer has the good idea of operating on its own. It only needs an operator to start the program and for the finishing steps. Because it prints independently in 3D, your teams have time to do other production tasks.

An ideal scenario in the kitchen is to launch the 3D printer at the end of the service and to retrieve the printed objects, ready to use for the next service. Thus the 3D printing step is more easily integrated into the implementation schedule.

Less inventory

Which cook or pastry chef has not experienced the cold room battle? Finding space for a production is sometimes a challenge! Often there is not enough storage space, and building new ones costs quite a bit. And there is also an economic problem when you don’t use the products very often, you end up with immobilized money. Not to mention the quantities of products that we must sometimes throw away when they are out of date…

Thanks to 3D printing, it is possible to produce only the quantities that we need, when we need them. This eliminates a large part of the “cold stock”. When you have a 3D printer, you never produce a batch of the same parts again. On the contrary, we chain the production of one form one after the other depending on what is necessary.

Rather than store PAIs in your cold rooms and reserves, you will store the 3D files of your creations. The good news is that it takes up much less space! And if you want to change the form of production because you are launching a new range of dishes, you have nothing to throw away. With the 3D printer, no more out of date stocks! By printing the quantities you need every day, you are rethinking the way you produce and manage your stock.

Creativity of ready-to-fill forms

arlier in this article, we already talked about the gains in 3D printing in terms of tooling, storage and time. And we also mentioned the freedom of creation, the possibility of creating all forms that one can imagine.

Now we want to tell you about a particular family of shapes. Complex designs are very difficult to achieve with other manufacturing techniques. For example, we can cite nested forms (a sphere in a sphere in a sphere) or non-moldable forms. These designs often have many cavities that can be filled.

So the first product that we develop at the Digital Pâtisserie is a biscuit with a complex shape. The goal is to offer ready-to-fill shapes, which saves a lot of manufacturing time for inverted building. Today to make an apple with 4 different layers of preparation, it is necessary to:

  • pour the first preparation into molds in the form of half-apples
  • put in cooling cell
  • unmold these parts
  • poach the second preparation in larger half-apple molds and insert the frozen half-apple
  • put in cooling cell
  • unmold these parts
  • etc… for the 3rd and 4th preparation

As you know (or you can imagine!) It is very long and very tedious in terms of manufacturing. So, we had the idea to create cookie shells of different sizes which are nested one inside the other. Thanks to these products, the pastry chef eliminates all stages of assembly and freezing, he can fill the floors in one go.

At the beginning, we started with the design of the apple, but you can imagine other forms of fruit, car, house … let your imagination run wild!

Variety of textures within the same preparation

You are no doubt familiar with the magic cake: a dough (not well mixed) is prepared, the ingredients of which dissociate during the rest and cooking phase. A cake formed of layers with different textures is thus obtained. But how about doing the same thing with a 3D printer?

Researchers at the University of Wattingen in the Netherlands produced a cookie whose texture they could program based on the 3D file. This variation was made by the amount of binder and the nature of the binder that was added to the powder at the time of 3D printing. Result: they get a cookie whose different voxels have a different softness. The mouth feel must be incredible!

Personnalization

Providing a better customer experience is one of the lines of research for all restaurateurs. Indeed, we all wish to offer our customers an unforgettable moment. For some pastry chefs, this means making a quick dessert; at the customer’s request. For many, this translates into a personalized message written in the cornet. But can we go further? 3D printing is the production on demand of unique and all different pieces. In a 3D printer you can make a miniature plane next to a mouse next to a bottle, etc. You can make an edible shape according to your hobbies and tastes. The Grail of 3D food printing would be to make a machine fast enough to print the dessert ordered by customers during a meal.

When we talk about food personalization, we also think of all the special diets. Control the quantity of ingredients that you print, add an active ingredient to a dish by printing it in a playful form or by inserting it into a “comfort-food” food … here are some of the applications of personalization thanks food 3D printing.

Now that we have listed the many benefits of 3D printing for cooks and pastry chefs, we invite you to take a look at what are the current limitations of food 3D printers.

Limits of 3D Food Printing

Not so many materials

Today, it is not possible to print any material with a 3D printer. This limit exists for plastic and metal printers, just as much as for food 3D printers.

First of all it is related to the printing technique used. For example, 3D printers operating like dough extruders can only print purees or mixtures with good liquidity.

Not all ingredients with fibers compacted into fabrics (typically meats) can be 3D printed as is. But this is also the case for fruits and vegetables, which must be mashed or powdered depending on the process used.

Finally, printed materials are rarely infinitely recyclable. As in any other manufacturing process, the use of the 3D printer slightly modifies the properties of the materials.

Size of the prints

The vast majority of 3D printers, whether for professional or personal use, have limited manufacturing sizes. It is impossible to imagine the production of a 3D dessert one meter long with this technology!

When you have to make a piece larger than the printing volume of the machine, you have to think of the design in several parts that can be assembled by nesting or gluing them. This requires additional work at the time of finishing, so that the junctions between the pieces are not visible.

This constraint exists in food 3D printers in the same way as all other 3D printers.

Finishing steps

The question of finishes is not limited to large printed pieces. In many cases, it is necessary to perform a finishing step at the end of the 3D printing process. When you place semi-liquid paste, you can think of cooking or dehydrating it in order to remove a certain% of water from the printed object. When using a powder-based 3D printing process, objects must be removed from the powder and the excess removed: this is known as the powder coating phase.

This is an aspect to take into account during the production time of the part. Let’s be clear: a piece taken out of the 3D printer is no more finished than a baked white pie shell! In other words, 3D printing is just one step in a dish manufacturing process. The use of this technology does not replace the work of the cook or the pastry chef. It is up to him to invent and compose according to the possibilities offered by the machine.

Finally, as in a classic dessert, one can choose to make finishes that add flavors, colors or even structure: chablonnage, use of food varnish, coating, flocking etc…

Easy to use?

When we talk about machines controlled by a computer, we don’t necessarily expect to talk about availability. However, it is a reality: there are few food 3D printers available worldwide and it is difficult to access them. Of course, there are more and more chocolate 3D printing services out there, and we tried to identify them some time ago. But for 3D printing of confectionery, cookies or dairy products, it’s difficult to find a solution …

Another obstacle to the spread of food 3D printing: the ability to create your 3D model and prepare it for food 3D printers. To put it simply: you need a 3D file to establish the list of commands to transmit to the machine and this file must respect a certain number of constraints. If you do not know modeling, it takes a few hours to integrate the basics (there are a mountain of video tutorials available). You can even start having fun very quickly with tools like Tinkercad or 3D Slash.

There are also several 3D file libraries made by professional designers. However, keep in mind that these 3D models were not designed for a food 3D printer. For example, it’s difficult to 3D print designs with overhangs when printing with food dough. Often there are also problems with withdrawal. We are not alone in thinking that food 3D printing preparation software is still to be invented! We have a few ideas about this… we’ll tell you more here.

Batch production

Earlier in this article, we saw how personalization was one of the great benefits of 3D printing. Logically, you will have to turn to other manufacturing processes if you are looking to do mass production.

What is the maximum limit of units that it is worth making with a 3D printer? This is a difficult question because the answer depends as much on the selected 3D model as on the material. A good criterion is to calculate the production time required to complete the series and compare it to the time required to make it by hand.

Speed

In general, 3D printing is presented as a technology for making parts quickly and one of the main applications is rapid prototyping. This is perfectly true when we compare the time required to make a mold and produce a series of parts in plastic injection for example. This is much less applicable in the case of the work of food professionals.

In the kitchen every minute counts… so we don’t really like the steps that last for hours. However producing twenty or a hundred pieces will take hours in 3D printing because the printer will have to produce with hundreds or thousands of layers … In fact, do not count on the printer to save you if you have a hassle, it will never keep up with your pace!

On the other hand, the advantage of the 3D printer is that it can perform these tasks independently … for example at night. Starting its installation with the finishing stage of 3D printed objects is a much more acceptable organization.

Material inner structure

Frequently, 3D printed parts are criticized for being less solid than those obtained by more traditional manufacturing techniques. This is linked to the technique of producing a layer superimposed on another layer, etc. If the layers do not adhere well to each other, we are left with a stack of sheets. When your 3D print completely misses (for example the piece peels off and moves on the set), we can produce incredible destructured designs!

In the case of food 3D printing, solidity is a sought-after quality, especially for the forms to be filled. But pastry chefs have a great deal of experience taking advantage of a famous layered material: puff pastry. This is why this disadvantage of 3D printing in general is less significant for food 3D printers.

In conclusion, we have scanned the pros and cons of objectively edible 3D printing. It’s not all rosy and the food 3D printer isn’t the quick fix for all the difficulties faced by professional restaurants. But it’s really a great tool when you accept the constraints of this new technology, in the same way that we have incorporated the constraints of all other techniques in the kitchen. Some obstacles exist and the players in this market (printer manufacturers, services) are working to resolve them. And you, do you see any other advantages to using 3D printing of food?

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