Project Members: Jeffrey Lipton
Past Members: Evan Malone. Dan Periard, Dan Cohen, Meredith Cutler, Deborah Coulter
Bellow is an edited excerpt from “Hydrocolloid Printing: A Novel Platform for Customized Food Production”
More examples and Materials can be found on the Fab@Home Website
Impact of Food SFF
Few things are as natively intertwined with humanity as food, which is essential to biological and social life. Not only does food support life and underpin social relations, but it also accounts for a substantial part of our economy. As of 2008, Americans spent $1.02 trillion annually on food, i.e., 9.6% of the nation’s combined disposable personal incomes. Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF) has the potential to leverage its core strengths (e.g., geometric complexity, automated fabrication) and make its mark on the culinary realm by transforming the way we produce and experience food. Technological innovations are necessary, however, before these visions can be realized. In addition to lowering barriers to SFF, such as cost of the machine, materials must be developed to feasibly enable a wide range of foods to be produced on SFF platforms.
Impact on Culinary Professionals: Overview
Food-SFF would benefit the professional culinary domain primarily in two respects: by lending new artistic capabilities to the fine dining domain, and also by extending mass-customization capabilities to the industrial culinary sector.
Impact on Culinary Professionals: Fine Dining
Fine dining chefs are continually developing new, innovative techniques and seeking the enabling technologies that will help them push the boundaries of culinary art. They innovate by harnessing non-traditional ingredients, such as hydrocolloids, and by employing new tools pulled straight from the scientific community; the result is “culinary magic” including flavored gelatin spheres with liquid centers, sauce foams, hot liquid deserts with flash frozen shells, syringe-extrudable meats, and much more. SFF promises to be the next important enabling technology in the fine dining realm. SFF delivers new possibilities by lending this faction of culinary artists one of SFF’s core capabilities: fabrication of multi-material objects with high geometric complexity. As the barriers fall (e.g., SFF machine prices have reduced nearly an order of magnitude in the last decade) and non-traditional ingredients gain credibility in the fine dining world (e.g., hydrocolloids), the question is not whether SFF will play an important role in the future of food, but rather, in what ways will it do so. Examples of potential future applications include cakes with complex, embedded 3D letters, such that upon slicing the cake, a message is revealed. Or, even a prime rib with a hidden message. Perhaps an on-demand, customizable menu in which the dish is prepared in any 3D shape that the diner desires: the diner can co-create with the culinary artist in real-time.
Impact on Culinary Professionals: Industrial Production
The second way in which SFF could benefit the professional culinary community is by enabling mass-customization in the industrial culinary sector. Today, industrial food producers rely heavily on high-throughput processes such as molding, extrusion and die-cutting. These processes, however, are not amenable to mass-customization (i.e., the use of flexible manufacturing techniques to produce custom output in a low-unit-cost fashion). Molding, extrusion and die-cutting each require substantial custom-tooling, and consequently, producing custom output for low-quantity runs is simply unfeasible. This is precisely where SFF’s inherent strengths can be leveraged: producing food with custom, complex geometries while maintaining cost-effectiveness. The cost-effectiveness is enabled by the fact that SFF does not require custom-tooling or extensive manual labor. One potential future application is custom production of edible giveaways, for example, as marketing collateral for small corporate events. Currently, the cost of custom tooling prohibits low-quantity custom production runs, but with a flexible culinary production platform like SFF, such production runs would be feasible.
Impact in the Home: Overview
Culinary professionals are more primed to adopt SFF than are homeowners, however, the implications for laypeople are even more profound. The effect on laypeople is essentially twofold: increasing productivity and injecting knowledge.
Impact in the Home: Productivity
Currently, the average American spends more than 30 minutes per day preparing food, according to USDA economists. If food-SFF were brought to the “set-and-forget” state, requiring minimal human labor, the average person could possibly realize time savings of 150+ hours per year (3.8 workweeks per year).
Impact in the Home: Injecting Knowledge
The second way that food-SFF could impact laypeople is by abstracting culinary knowledge and injecting it directly into the home. The idea of abstracting knowledge is nothing new. When chefs create new dishes and then write recipes, they are effectively abstracting their knowledge and distilling it into a prescription for others to reproduce their work. Nevertheless, just like the skills a musician needs to effectively play a song from sheet music, a recipe follower still needs non-trivial skills to execute a recipe. It is not only in the abstraction of knowledge, but also in the execution of the prescription that SFF could have tremendous impact. Just as MIDI software can offload musical skill by taking in digital sheet music and directly creating sound, the SFF system could directly inject the skills necessary to follow a recipe end-to-end. Laypeople don’t have to know the first thing about musical notation, valve/key/fret fingering, or tonal theory to be able to utilize a stereo system to deliver a distilled version of a live musical performance directly into their home. Likewise, a layperson would not necessarily need to possess even basic culinary skills to employ an SFF system to create geometrically complex, multi-material food items. Culinary knowledge and artistic skill of world renowned chefs can be abstracted to a 3D fabrication file and then used by laypeople to reproduce famous chefs’ work in the home. Also, expert knowledge of the world’s leading nutritionists can be abstracted and encoded in 3D fabrication files to help laypeople eat more healthily, without necessarily having to learn healthy cooking techniques or even understand nutritional principles such as caloric intake and protein balance. SFF systems could even go one step further, and deliver customized solutions (SFF’s core strength) to each user that incorporate the individualized nature of nutritional needs. For example, a layperson may soon be able to upload a report of their daily activity from a pedometer and digital food log, and the SFF system could use expert knowledge to print them a meal that fulfills their particular nutritional needs for the day. While experts can currently offer advice on how to balance a nutritional program, their influence falls short of delivering the end-to-end solution that only SFF system can provide: from personalized design through fabrication.
Lipton, J.I., Arnold, D., Nigl, F., Lopez, N., Cohen, D.L., Noren, Nils., Lipson,H., (2010) "Multi-Material Food Printing with Complex Internal Structure Suitable for Conventional Post-Processing", 21st Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium (SFF'10), Austin Tx, USA.
Cohen D.L., Lipton, J., Cutler, M., Coulter, D., Vesco, A., Lipson, H. (2009) “Hydrocolloid Printing: A Novel Platform for Customized Food Production” Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium (SFF’09), Aug 3-5 2009, Austin, TX, USA.
Periard D., Schaal N., Schaal M., Malone E., Lipson H., (2007) “Printing Food”, Proceedings of the 18th Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium, Austin TX, Aug 2007, pp.564-574.