World's first chocolate printer

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Manufacturing and retail could get a much-needed boost from a newly-developed 3D chocolate printer. In the long term the technology could be used by customers to design many different products themselves - tailor-made to their needs and preferences.

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Professor Richard Everson - University of Exeter [RE]

This is a machine which is, if you like, a 3D chocolate printer and what it does is take a model that you would like to create in chocolate and prints it in chocolate from a design which you might have made at home on a computer, or possibly in a shop or a library, and then you can eat the chocolate.

Dr Laing Hao - University of Exeter [LH]

It’s great fun. We can see the technology that could be a future manufacturing technology for metals and plastics, but we want more people to know the technology. I think chocolate is a fantastic media to send out this message.

[RE]

This opens up the possibility of creating exactly the chocolate that you would like to create, then we can manufacturer it using this machine, you can pick it up, eat it yourself or give it to your mum or your girlfriend.

The chocolate is delivered from reservoirs here. Molten chocolate is delivered down through these nozzles. The nozzles move around over this bed on which the chocolate design is built up. The bed moves also underneath the nozzles and that allows us to deposit chocolate in any place that we want. After a layer of chocolate has been deposited, the bed then moves down slightly which allows the next layer to be built up on top of it after the chocolate on the previous layer has solidified and that is repeated successively until the whole model is built up. Using your computer at home you would connect to our website and download a piece of software and that would allow you to easily sketch the sort of chocolate that you would like to design and then when you are satisfied with the design, or perhaps you have modified someone else’s design, you would press a button on the software and that would deliver the chocolate design, in a 3D cad file, to the machine. The machine might reside in a high street shop and so ten minutes later you could go and collect the chocolate.

[HL]

The reason to develop this machine is firstly we want to make an innovation of this technology so we can manufacturer unique chocolate. Secondly we want to promote this technology to wider people, to all engineers as well as general users of chocolate, and we certainly want to involve students in the technology development so that they can learn material science, manufacturing technology and also control system software design.

[RE]

The implications for manufacturing a business are huge. This opens up the possibility of a much wider participation, a much fuller participation of the consumer in the production process. Some people call it co-creation, where the consumer is fully part of the design process. Chocolate is a very easy place to explore how that might happen because chocolate is not a safety critical system in anyway. We wouldn’t want people designing aeroplanes on line, but of course with chocolate if it goes horrible wrong then all you have is a mess of chocolate, not a fatal crash. I think as we move away from just customisation into full co-creation, this sort of design which incorporates a flexible manufacturing system and also a web interface which allows people to not only design their own system, but collaborate with other people who are designing their systems, their particular products, those will become much more pervasive.