We’ve seen several 3D printers hit the market with the goal of printing food. 3D Systems’ Chefjet can print extremely detailed sugary objects at great speed, while Natural Machines’ Foodini is capable of printing entire meals. Then there are several 3D chocolate printers that have recently hit the market. Without a doubt, 3D printing and food are coming together faster than most people had originally believed they would. The reason? These machines are capable of fabricating almost perfect food creations that both look and taste great.
We have only just broken the surface though. In the coming months and years we will surely see more specialty based 3D food printers emerge, as more and more individuals and business see the potential that lies in the computer aided production of food.
One man named Joshua Lankford, has come up with an idea for what could turn the cake baking industry upside down, if successfully brought to market. A 3D printer that he calls the “3D Cake Creator“, would be able to print out entire decorative cakes with a push of a button. While the idea still has not been turned into a reality, Lankford seems pretty determined to make it come to fruition. “I’m very low on resources in terms of finding ways to execute this project, but I thought it was important to put it out there where more experienced minds can collaborate and make it a reality,” Lankford told 3DPrint.com.
Lankford, a market researcher by trade, came up with this idea about a year ago, when he and others held an ethnographic study with kids aged 9 to 11 years old, about their views on health, wellness, indulgence, and most importantly, the question of “what would make a birthday party ‘special’?” Students were asked to bring cake ideas with them, that they had either come up with on their own, or that they found by searching around the internet.
“What we saw is that about 90% of the cakes they wanted for their next birthday were 3D. No one brought in a sheet cake with a picture of ‘Clash of Clans’ on it – they wanted a Clan Castle made of cake with little soldiers fighting alongside the castle walls.”
Most small bakeries, like the ones you would typically find within grocery stores, do not have the ability to create such elaborate cakes. Their employees are usually not professional confectioners, and their equipment is not of the highest quality. “Having been intrigued by 3D printing, I had a moment where I realized that grocery store bakeries could ‘Have their cake and eat it too’,” explained Lankford. “What if a student only had to load a design, and allow a 3D printer to do the rest?”
When the idea popped into his head, Lankford proceeded to scribble down a quick design for what he thought could become the future of cake creating (a more detailed design can be seen below).
“I realized that batter as a medium is incredibly cheap, and compared to filament, it could be the cheapest 3D printing material available yet,” said Lankford. “Sure – no one is going to prototype in cake, but it could be a practical way to get crazy with cake design.”
The 3D Cake Creator would work by utilizing an X/Y plotter, similar to one you would find on a Cartesian FDM 3D printer. It would be sent instructions from a PC, and instead of printing in filament like most 3D printers, this machine would print using standard cake batter. This batter is extruded and plotted onto a build platform, which slowly moves into and out of an open oven. As it passes through the oven, it is cooked, and then the cooked portion slowly moves out of the oven to cool, while the upper (newly laid down layers) are still baking. Once the entire cake descends fully out of the oven, it will automatically shut itself off.
While the idea seems quite brilliant, Lankford does point out several weaknesses in his concept, which he hopes to account for soon:
- If the cake batter bakes in layers, one might end up with a “crunchy” cake, rather than a soft, moist cake. This may be resolved through batter formulation, but this runs the risk of alienating people who prefer low ingredient count, natural desserts.
- The open oven would output a lot of heat, and due to the moving platform, it might not be consistent in baking each layer of cake
- Some sort of design validation is required to account for the physics of cake as a material. One couldn’t put a large item on a thin base.
All in all, the idea sounds pretty legitimate, and we will certainly keep an eye on this project, which is currently listed on hackaday. If this project does come to fruition, the decorative icing could be printed on with this recently launched 3D printer.
In the coming months and years, we will begin to see more and more 3D printers that take a specific profession or hobby, and in turn provide a way of creating a computer aiding method of creation. This certainly won’t be the last 3D food printer idea that we see, catered to an individual area of culinary arts. Let us know what you think of Lankford’s 3D cake printer idea in the 3D Cake Creator Forum thread on 3DPB.com.