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Thermoformed 3d chocolate molds: review (3/3)

Here is the last article in a series about rapid making of customized molds for chocolatiers. In order to make some conclusions, let us extrapolate a bit on the concepts which we have dealt with in the previous articles (theory, practice). The viewpoint here is that of a chocolatier wishing to modernize his tools for more human contact and a greater creative freedom.

A time for chocolatiers to learn 3d modeling and printing?

In french pastry & chocolate schools, pupils are often taught briefly how to make gelatin or silicon molds from existing objects. Chocolatiers especially know how to make vertical chocolate figures from a combination of color-painted molds, stuck with hot chocolate.

Source: Logo Patisserie Numerique on TinkerCad

Thanks to its user interface designed for childen, TinkerCAD probably stays first among the current online 3d modeling software applications for non-specialists. It requires very few hours of training.

In 2021, La Patisserie Numérique held its first TinkerCAD training to pupils of a parisian pastry school. The latter already had a vacuum-forming machine and purchased a 3d printer augmented with the Cakewalk food extruder.

Mold-making locations: in-house vs. outsourced

Imagining, designing, making and using one’s own molds is time consuming. It requires skills and perseverance in front of recurrent failures and imperfections.

Resorting to a molds manufacturer is theoretically the easier choice – a professional partner is held responsible for costs, quality and delays.

Bringing mold-making in house (possibly in a non-stricly food-safe room – a “grey room”, before sterilizing) can reduce:

  • The costs
  • Delays in the release of new molds.

Doing so however would dig you into technical issues inherent to manufacturing technologies.

Such a decision is theoretically profitable for:

  • big enough chocolate and pastry shops,
  • customization-oriented business models.

Semi-customization: a profitable option for small chocolate shops

Full customization would consist in accepting to create about any kind of 3-dimensional chocolate shape, with high profitability risks. Indeed, customers’ briefs may vary a great deal, making achievement times difficult to estimate. Created tools and molds may end up being very unpractical to use… final food parts assembly may also take too long for an acceptable price.

Semi-customization on the opposite allows customers to change only a small part of some available 3d shape, known to be easy to handle by chocolatiers, with no big productivity loss.

Below is a snapshot of some chocolate bar, the logo of which can be inserted before vacuum-forming. Only that insert part needs to be 3d printed, while the frame is reused for each similar project. Vents (holes) allow air to penetrate and increase mold precision during forming.

Technology allowing chocolatiers and customers to co-create

Apart from scarce exceptions, industrial companies are not able to offer customization for small quantities. We wish craftsmen to reclaim more market share from them. Co-creation (or co-design) between artisan and customers, thanks to mini digital manufacturing machines, may give a market advantage in those regards.

More and more online biscuit and chocolate shops popped up those last years (Shanty Biscuits, Noteworthy Chocolates..), with a simple offer:

  • chocolate or biscuits with a low variety of recipes;
  • the top surface holds relief text or images;
  • most often with an online shop and shipping or store pickup.

In their cases, laser engraving, handmade or automated cookie-cutting making is possibly in use.

Example sales conversation for a tailor-made 3d chocolate

Here is an example sales chat between a chocolatier and a personal customer (Ms A.). The main topic is birthday chocolate sticks. You may read downards:

  • Mrs A: “I would like magic wands in milk chocolate for my daughter’s birthday. Here is a draft I drew (see above)
  • Chocolatier: “Good idea, I have no molds for this and could not find anything fitting online. I will send you a 3d proposal by email. I will design it so that it is practical enough to use by our team. For kids you may choose between milk and/or dark chocolate.
  • Mrs A: (seeing the 3d proposal) “Nice design ! May I have more of them in both chocolate colors? Apart from that I would actually be excited to order something custom from you for my husband’s fourtieth birthday.”

Order quantities are so little that making molds should be simple and quick enough not to cost Mrs A too much. Also the chocolatier will not want to spend too much of his weekly production time for that project. Finding a proper pricing that does not turn away customers, while remaining profitable for customization requests may be challenging in the first months.

Anthropology: comitting to human growth, not machines

Work presented here tries to answer anthropological and civilizational questions. How not to reduce humans to machines and make them compete against the latter?

How not to sideline craftsmen, but instead put them to the forefront, by increasing professional relationships thanks to a healthy creative productivity ? The answer probably lays in cross-disciplinary know-hows: micro-industrial technology, artistic genious and craftsmanship. A big help in those regards is the democratization of desktop 3d printing and other digital manufacturing technologies over the last 10 years.

A priority set on the anthropological level, while leveraging new machines and techniques, completely relates to the Fab City manifesto introduced in 2018, especially its bullets 2. to 7. See below..

A movement of urban micro-industrialization

Source : The Fab City Manifesto 2021 – PDF French+English

A micro-fabrication trend within cities

De-industrialization, in the sense of de-taylorism (putting an end to the hyper-repetition and hyper-specialization of tasks) may designate a trend to relocate industries into cities, rather than outside of them, reconciling creation and making. That way, designers create and makers design. The divide between engineers/designers and workers is blurred, thinned out to the maximum. Craftsmen can create more advanced tools themselves for their daily work.

In 2021, Mayku coined (un)industrialization for this exact trend, in a teaser for their new Multiplier forming machine… about 200 years after the industrial revolution itself.

Unleashing creativity – Towards fast flexible molds making

Any chocolatier may agree that making only low-reliefs (ie. bars of all shapes and sizes) with no undercuts so as to have almost instant unmolding… becomes boring on the long run. To provide more creative freedom (especially, away from yearly cyclical celebrations – Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas..), it would come in handy to have ready-modelled or parametric downloadable matrix models which could be 3d-printed and molded – with some flexible material, allowing for some undercuts tolerance.

Screenshot of Sketchfab.com’s homepage – June 2022
Screenshot of Thingiverse.com – June 2022

The above first screenshot is a home page of Sketchfab.com’s model section. It features highly artistical models, mostly usable for screen display (movies, animated movies, video games).

The second screenshot is from the Thingiverse website, searching with keywords “chocolate mould”. It shows printable models, very diverse in terms of figures, molding technique and professional quality for food.

We canWe can hope that sites specializing in culinary digital fabrication will emerge, possessing the artistic richness of Sketchfab and the printing convenience of Thingiverse or 3dCults models.

What about silicone?

3d matrix, counter-form and silicone cast from a related online training by La Pâtisserie Numérique : Créer ses moules sur mesure en silicone

The technique of food grade silicone molding from 3D printed material has not been shown in this articles series for the sake of brevity. It requires the print to be food-grade (for direct permanent contact), but also to build frames or counter-shapes. It does not give shiny chocolate casts easily, requires long waiting times for each copy (several hours against a handful of minutes for thermoforming). Many chocolatiers do not appreciate silicone molds – demolding may have a high breakage rate, flexibility risks giving deformed chocolate pieces. However, this approach allows to tolerate strong undercuts… which solid molds never have (ex: non flexible thermoforming, plastic injection…).

Mokaya is an oustanding French supplier of excellent food-safe silicone molds. I worked in a pastry shop for almost a month with those.

Moules Mokaya
Video of a platinum silicone mold made from the collaboration between Mokaya and pastry chef Philippe Bartocetti

Flex sheets thermoforming – silicone-like but blazing fast

For thermoforming of flexible sheetstolerating strong undercuts – you may want to take a look at the Flex materials of the Vaquform DT2 or the just released Mayku Multiplier. The latter machine opens up great prospects for fast and very precise molds from complex shapes. Pourable food must stay at “lukewarm” or “low” temperature, eg. lower than 60 degrees Celcius, and the mold cannot be baked in an oven. Such sheets are in Ethylene-vinyl Acetate (EVA), with a food safety certificate.

Pressure thermoforming – almost injection-like mold precision

In addition to using a flexible thermoforming film – to wrap objects with complex relief, changing the thermoforming technology itself can improve the accuracy of the molds. This is the case with chamber pressure thermoforming, rather than vacuum thermoforming, used by the newly developed Mayku Multiplier.

Mayku Multiplier
Thermoformeuse

A desktop pressure thermoforming machine – the Mayku Multiplier.

Thermoforming with food-safe Flex sheets of a Romanesco broccoli (with undercuts) by chocolatier Paul A Young.

Small portable machines

If you wish to travel (to hold workshops or take part in competitions), it is also conceivable to choose a small 3d printer (Prusa Mini) with a very small thermoforming machine (Jintai / Keystone Machine III). Both machines are portable without dismantling everything, fitting in a sports bag!


Source : Prusa3d.com
Source : Keystone Industries

Conclusions

In this 3-articles series, we have shown that beginner amateurs and artisans can tackle digital manufacturing of customized chocolate molds.

The hands-on project we have showcased was simple : chocolate neapolitans personalized with La Pâtisserie Numérique’s logo – embossed. Required steps can be achieved by chocolatiers, with some patience and the help of friends fond of 3d printing.

Usually mold-making is a skill outsourced to manufacturers away from chocolate shops. A new trend is slowly starting in the opposite direction: insourcing. Reasons: fewer constraints on possible projects, more intimate relationships with customers thanks to preview sharing, co-creation and shorter delivery intervals (time-to-market). We have shown a semi-personalized practical example with a non-changing frame and variable pluggable vented 3D inserts.

In an era where one may fear that humans get replaced by machines, the latter can and should serve artisans, allowing them to better fit their customers’ needs. Over a few dozen years, chocolate workshops benefited from:

  • heatguns,
  • electric double boilers,
  • enrobers,
  • blenders,
  • melangers,
  • waterjet cutting machines…

Such gear needed user accessibility as well as food-safety certifications for most. 3D printers and thermoforming machines are definitely among the next commonly used tools in that list of chocolate equipment, in an insourced fashion.

2 replies on “Thermoformed 3d chocolate molds: review (3/3)”

[…] This is the second article of a series on creating custom molds quickly and cheap. The previous episode (1/3) was a theoretical overview of mold-making techniques. The steps depicted below are very practical and require some patience from you. You may as well head on to the more theoretical part 3/3, reflecting on digital manufacturing implementation and insourcing for artisans. […]

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