Engineers, hackers and entrepeneurs have championed 3D printing since the 1980’s. Need a missing mechanical part, a toy model, or a new plate? Just give a 3D printer the design, and voila, it will print you a new one. The 3D printer RepRap will even print you a copy of itself.
Clever. But so far not quite clever enough to make their way into many homes. And for good reason, I’d say. We already have enough expendable junk lying around, do we really need the ability to make plastic trinkets from the comfort of our living room?
What 3D printer developers have been looking for, according to Queens entrepeneur Jamil Yosefzai, is the “killer app” for 3D printing — an application that will serve as a gateway into everyday use. He thinks he may have found that in the medium of food.
Yosefzai tells me that his Queens-based start-up, Essential Dynamics, will begin offering 3D food printers for home use this fall. The machines will start at $1000, but he hopes to get the price down to $700 (“the price of an iPad!”) in the near future. The “Fabber” can print any material that can come out of a syringe. At this point the machine can’t actually make whole food dishes, but it will decorate cupcakes with flawless dexterity.
According to Cornell mechanical engineering grad student Jeff Lipton, cake decorating is the least of the possibilities in 3D food printing’s future. Lipton’s part of Cornell’s Fab@Home 3D printing project. He imagines 3D food printers one day serving as both personal chefs and dietitians. A person trying to lose weight could enter his body measurements and daily activity level into the machine. It would then print out the food he selected in appropriate serving sizes.
Always hung up on the details, I had to question how this would work in a practical sense. The machine would have to contain a large number of “ink” canisters for each ingredient. And Lipton agreed with me that it also would have to have a built in refrigeration unit.
These were just initial telephone interviews, but they brought up a number of questions that I’d like to ask if I interview Yosefzai and Lipton in person. Will the food come out of the printer pre-cooked, or could the printer also include a cooking unit? How much room would it take up in the kitchen?
Most importantly, will you have to clean all the parts after every use? I often find myself mixing or chopping ingredients by hand, even though my food processor or KitchenAid could do the job better, just because I don’t want to have to wash all the gadget components. On that line of thought, it’s hard for me to imagine 3D food printers gaining popularity beyond the kitchens of the wealthy anytime soon. I’d rather have a dishwasher first.