Co.Design

The World's First 3-D Chocolate Printer

Researchers at Exeter University have built a mini chocolate factory with the goal of introducing "co-creation" to the masses. Rejoice!

Three-dimensional printing has gained steam in recent years, with designers and artists seizing the technology to fabricate everything from plastic trinkets and jewelry to coffeepots and cell phones. But wouldn't all those things be better rendered in chocolate? Of course they would, and the engineering brainiacs at Britain's Exeter University agree -- which is why they've developed the world's first 3-D chocolate printer.

chocolate-3-Dprinter

The machine is a desktop chocolate factory that squirts molten chocolate into precise layers according to computer-modeled designs. Still in the prototype stage, the printer -- which the research team calls ChocALM for Chocolate Additive Layer Manufacturing -- was developed by groups of Exeter students with the help of corporate donations of mechanical components and a £2,000 ($3,191) sponsorship from a chocolate company. Government funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will go toward assembling two more chocolate printers. The researchers have a loftier goal than consuming lots and lots of chocolate. They hope to involve mainstream consumers in the act of "co-creation." Currently, most 3-D printing services are geared toward those familiar with the software used to design products for 3-D printers.

When this video made its debut on YouTube last week, some viewers expressed skepticism over ChocALM's authenticity, since at no point during the five-minute-long explanation is the machine shown in action. Co.Design reached out to Exeter's Dr. Liang Hao for ocular proof, and he provided this low-resolution video to set the record straight:

Later this year, Hao hopes to roll out a beta version of a 3-D chocolate-design interface on Google's Sketchup (a free, downloadable modeling tool), so that consumers can craft their own confections. Next year, the team plans to launch a community website, where users will be able to upload and share their designs, and eventually establish a business model for manufacturing and delivering the chocolates. "This solution," Hao tells Co.Design, "will provide a great potential to use the collective intelligence of users and producers (manufacturers and service providers) to co-design and co-produce user-centric chocolates and bring them into the mainstream market." Nothing short of a gift to humanity.

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7 Comments

  • Matt

    id hesitate to call it the "worlds first" chocolate printer - maker bot has an attachment that allows you to print liquid (chocolate included).

  • PixInk Design

    Chocolate is the perfect product to fuel
    mainstream consumers’ hunger for three-dimensional printing. Let’s face it. No
    matter the design, the product is sweet in every dimension.

  • Swardley

    Regarding "worlds first", it's probably difficult to determine when the first actual 3D chocolate printers were built. A number of computer controlled, 3D chocolate printers were built many years ago, often constructed using lego bricks and extrusion pumps to demonstrate how easy it was to do so. In 2004, James Duncan et al from Fotango (in the UK) successful built and demonstrated at conferences a chocolate 3D printers which was computer controlled, using an additive process and constructed from lego bricks. Also Saul Griffiths, MIT had demonstrated systems prior to that. 

    As per Sivowitche's law "whenever you think you know who was first, the more you look you find someone else who was more first". 

    Stil, it's very cool