Why 3D Printed Food is a Myth
People love to believe the hype of 3D printed food, the idea seems extraordinary. Almost Sci-Fi futuristic but is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
The media love to portray 3D printed food as a topic with a lot of buzz about it. In reality this sector faces some huge obstacles that it will have to overcome if it wants to flourish like other sectors of 3D printing. BeeHex is a 3D printer manufacturer led by tech celebrity and engineer Anjan Contractor, a former Nasa employee. BeeHex create food printers that are sold to restaurants to decrease the cost and increase the efficiency of food production. Unlike many conventional 3D printers, BeeHex’s system uses a pneumatic piston system to deliver the substance onto the build tray. The guys at BeeHex have also been working hard on a printer compatible mobile app which lets would be pizza hackers customize their pizza and alerts them with mobile notifications when the pizza is ready to eat.
The main issue with food 3D printing is the lack of availability of basic ingredients. For example the only food that can be printed has very specific properties, precise melting and freezing points that are compatible with the printer. This lack of ingredients really limits the possibility of dishes you can prepare. Another barrier to consumer use is the price, because BeeHex uses prototype tech at the minute, a food 3D printer would likely be too costly for the average household to adopt. I believe that 3D printed food has far more potential as a manufacturing process in the short term. The ability to accuratelylay down rows of dough, sauce or even condiments could have big implications for the operating effeciencys of supermarket “food factories”. This is similar to the way we see 3D printing in general being adopted as a manufacturing process first then seeing the technology trickle down to consumer grade hardware. A great example is Stratasys Idea Series of 3D printers which derive features from the firms wildly successful professional printers worth 10s of thousands of dollars.
3D printed food also has to face the food safety hurdle. Inherent to 3D printing is the tiny “layers” that 3D prints are made up of. These layers create grooves in the surface of the print, which can harbor dirt, grime and bacteria. This poses more of a problem when trying to print cups, plates, cutlery or other utensils but the problem remains even in prints of 3D food. Bacteria in the layers of our chocolate has never been a problem before so why adopt a production technique that makes it an issue?
People have raised concerns about lack of a “human element” in 3D printed food. Restaurateurs seem to like the idea of their food being made with passion, who can blame them? I bet that pizza would taste better if a greasy Italian guy with a terrible mustache baked it. The upside to not using a traditional chef is the massive cost saving that can be achieved. The average salary of a culinary chef in the UK is £27,000 according to caterer.com. The one off price of a 3D printer is likely less than this. Consider the fact that a 3D printer doesn’t get sick or swear at his boss and 3D printed food really does start to make a little bit of sense.
But It Really Does Have Potential?
BeeHex has been shifting it’s business model recently, opting to target the pizza manufacturing market. The big factories which produce supermarket pizzas need an efficient way to spread tomato sauce and dough. Sounds like a tasty opportunity to me. According to some “experts” in the pizza manufacturing field these machines can go for up to $25,000, so maybe things are looking up for BeeHex? Technologies like 3D printed food do tend to begin as high value machines and over time decrease in price until they are affordable for consumers, much like the personal computer. A similar trajectory might make the 3D printed food market a lot more interesting in the future.