US firm 3D Systems is collaborating with chocolate manufacturing giant Hershey’s to develop 3D chocolates fit for the commercial market.
Hershey’s would not disclose any details about its plans for 3D confectionery but director, corporate communication, Jeff Beckman commented: “We are embarking on the multi-year exploration of 3D printing for edible foods. It is too soon to have any definitive outcome from this work, which has just begun.”
The announcement precedes the launch of 3D Systems latest ChefJet ‘kitchen ready’ printers targeting mainstream markets and designed to make chocolate and sugar-based confectionery.
Competition fuels action
3D printers are primarily used by technicians to create prototypes for new designs at the moment but 3D pioneers – like 3D Systems and Stratasys – have stepped up the pace to become the first to commercialise confectionery-grade machines as competition emerges from new entrants.
Start-ups like UK-based Choc Edge and Spain’s Natural Machines are among are raft of new companies lining up to take a share of this virgin market.
Xero Corporation is also preparing to stake a claim pending a patent application for its printed ‘3D tempered chocolate’ technology.
Cost is an issue
Basic 3D printers can already be picked up for about €734, but 3D Systems’ machines are described as being more advanced than others currently on the market and as a result its models are still relatively cost prohibitive. The smaller format ChefJet model starts at €3671 while the more advanced professional version retails at around €7,343.
Both printers produce chocolate or sugar with vanilla, mint, sour apple, cherry and watermelon flavours and the professional model can also develop high quality confectionery ‘pictures’ that can be used as decorations.
Three-dimensional confectionery is ‘printed’ layer by layer using the stereolithography additive manufacturing process first patented by 3D Systems founder Chuck Hall in 1986.
Each layer is solidified before the next one is applied to produce complex designs, including moving parts, not possible using current production methods.