The UC Davis Engineering Fabrication Lab (where I work), currently has a ZPrinter 650 made by Z Corp (now owned by 3D Systems) that is known for making excellent visual prototypes, but lacks the ability to print functional parts. Today we were looking for 3D printers that could print affordable and functional prototypes for university students and stumbled across something even cooler (to me)…
But first, What is 3D Printing?
3D printing, sometimes called Rapid Prototyping, is the process of taking a digital CAD (Computer-aided Design) model and bringing it to life, layer by layer. The printers break down a digital model into infinitesimal layers as thin as a piece of paper and build it up by layering material. There are many ways to create these layers, but the two I prefer are Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) and Stereolithography (SLA).
Fused Deposition Modeling – A material is melted and deposited into place to create the object’s shape, one cross section at a time.
Examples of FDM (from 3D Systems):
Stereolithography – A build bed is dipped into a tub of resin where ultraviolet lights cure each layer (hardening the material). The part is stuck to the build bed and slowly lifts out of the tub as more layers are added.
Examples of Stereolithography (from envisionTEC):
The ZPrinter 650 is different than both of these types of rapid prototyping. As seen in the video I posted yesterday, our printer works by spreading a layer of powder, depositing binder in the cross section of the part and repeating the process until all layers have been printed.
The coolest thing we saw today is 3D Systems is starting to apply this technology to food!! Using sugar as the “powder” and water as the “binder”, edible parts have been printed! Intricate cake toppers and personalized sugar cubes (such as the ones shown below) can now be printed as opposed to formed by hand. Pretty neat!! Talk of 3D printed food has also been circulating. I personally think that it sounds gross and unnatural, but with already unhealthy applications like sugar and baked goods it seems like cool technology to bridge the gap between design and food.
It was an informative day with lots of cool technology! Its amazing how fast this field has developed and how advanced the technology already is.
What do you think of the idea of 3D printed food??