As a way to make food stuffs into customized shapes, 3D printed food is arguably still something of a novelty. A more serious application of the 3D printed food is creating foodstuffs that are easier to eat for people with difficulty swallowing, as well as safer food preparation for people with allergies.
There is also a significant area of research in using 3D printing to make food for astronauts. In their work they call “Strategy in 3D Printing of Food”, a group of researchers discuss 3D printed food’s methodologies and uses.
Given that humans obviously “need” food, the size of the potential for the market of 3D printed food truly remarkable. As well as any relevant safety concerns, the problems inherent to 3D printing foodstuffs into structures and support themselves and maintain their own shape must be accounted for.
Several different methods can be used to 3D print food. The researchers argue that selective sintering can be used to form multiple layers of a so-called “food matrix”, such that each layer can contain different parts of different foodstuffs. Selective hot air sintering and melting use a beam of hot air to selectively fuse together sugar powder crystals.
Liquid binding or binder jetting is another way of 3D printing food, such as the “ChefJet” 3D printer of 3D Systems of Rock Hill, South Carolina. This is faster and uses cheaper materials than other means, although it gives the 3D printed object a rougher surface finish and uses a machine that is more expensive to maintain.
Hot-melt extrusion is used for liquids or pastes. Here, the material is heated slightly above its melting point and extruded, immediately solidifying after extrusion and sticking to the previous layers. Soft-material extrusion has also been used at room temperature for foods like dough, meat paste and processed cheese.
Inkjet printing or material jetting can also be used to create digital images as decorations or surface fill. The researchers also speak in passing of so-called “bioprinting”, which can be used to produce meat without slaughtering animals. However, this has thus far been too expensive to do on any significant scale.
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