Saturday, November 15, 2014

3D Printing-Will it change the face of food technology?

Though food is basically to serve the needs of the body in terms of calories and essential nutrients, macro as well as macro, man still craves for certain desirable features that has to be part of food he eats. While nutritionally balanced food will take care of health and body development, sensory features like color, shape texture and aroma make eating a pleasure. The oral cavity and the taste buds together decide whether food is readily accepted or not. Fortification and enrichment can take care of nutritional deficiencies caused by processing but sensory quality beyond what nature is providing in fresh foods can be achieved only through appropriate technologies developed from time to time. Taking a specific trait in foods like shape or texture extrusion technology can achieve a wide range of shapes and textures and advent of cooker extruder provided further scope in enhancing the appeal of processed foods very significantly. Now comes another innovation in the form of 3D printer technology which has tremendous potential to offer a variety of shapes to the food. Though this has vastly enhanced the capacity of food industry to diversify the product mix the question still remains whether this is going to be as exciting as expected. Here is a commentary on this new development.  

"We're watching a short video from MSN/CNN entitled, "3D Printing to Revolutionize the Food Industry". We disagree. The reporter briefly interviews a representative of Natural Machines, who make the Foodini food printer. It's a fascinating machine that can extrude a variety of food substances in desired shapes. But 3D Printing Will Not Revolutionize the Food Industry.  We're skeptical, at least until these questions have been resolved: Speed. 3D printing is very, very slow, which is not a good attribute when you're hungry. Imagine waiting for a print of your dinner for six hours? Certainly some dishes do take that long to prepare or longer, but remember the current slate of food printers do not cook the food, they merely arrange it for cooking, with the exception being certain items such as chocolate that can be immediately consumed. Speed is a critical element not only in consumer kitchens, but also in commercial kitchens.  Cost. 3D printers can cost more than your average kitchen appliance, although they are possibly affordable by commercial kitchens, so long as they can produce product with sufficient speed to be cost effective.  Materials. The range of materials usable by current food printers is quite limited, as are all current 3D printers. Worse, most food dishes are composed of many different food materials mixed together in useful and sometimes complex ways. This is not a capability available in current food printers." 

Why do skeptics feel that 3D technology will not have much impact on food industry? There are two reasons for this skepticism. First 3D technology is a slow one taking hours to produce a product and therefore has limitations in terms of mass manufacture, Second the product needs further processing like coking, baking or frying unlike cooker extruder. Competition comes from already established equipment range available to the industry at a lower cost and with high speed for getting any shape one wants These machines are versatile enough to give a much wider range of products including center filled products with various casings. They also need further processing after shape formation but their productivity can be very high to keep up with the demand. Where 3D printers have high potential is in making uniquely shaped plastic products suited for medical industry such as implants and others and in engineering industry for making precision spare parts. Still 3D technology cannot be ruled out altogether and further development in this area in future may make it still relevant to food industry.


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