When 3D Printing Isn’t the Best Customization Option, or How Candy Mechanics Learned to Love CNC


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candy-mechanics-logoWe report on all kinds of 3D printers, including metal 3D printers, PCB 3D printers, and perhaps the most novel, food 3D printers. All kinds of food has been 3D printed, from pizza and ice cream to chocolate and gummy candies that are shaped like your face. 3D printing guru Hod Lipson, a Columbia University professor, believes that food printing could be the “killer app” in additive manufacturing. We’ve seen a lot of recent innovation when it comes to 3D printing customized candy, from lollipops to gummy candy. Sam Part, a student at Kingston University in London, turned his design project into a sweet, viable prototype, he called the Lolpop: a detailed 3D rendering of a person’s face in the form of a lollipop. His original design earned him a nomination for a D&AD New Blood Award, which recognizes the work of young creatives. From there, he and fellow Londoner Ben Redford co-founded Candy Mechanics, a fun company we’ve heard about before, and one that turned Queen Elizabeth II into a candy head on a stick!

gold-lolpopsI’m sure you see where this is going – the company’s developed a really neat machine that perfectly 3D prints unique Lolpops, right? Wrong. What happens when 3D printing isn’t your best option for product customization?

Part said, “The quality of 3D prints was fantastic and created brilliant molds. However, the amount of time it took to create and replicate 3D prints, along with the extremely high failure rate of the mechanics we were using, meant it could not be commercially viable.”

Sometimes, 3D printing doesn’t offer the best solution. The company’s idea for customized candy lollipops is definitely a marketable one, and one that requires 3D images and rendering, but 3D printing ended up not being the best manufacturing option. So, Candy Mechanics picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and kept working. The next idea was vacuum-formed head and face molds – the object is etched first, and then a thin plastic lining is vacuum-sealed around the etching. A mold is formed, taking the shape of the original etched object, and the chocolate is poured into the mold, which hardens into a sweet 3D rendering. Even though this idea worked, the Candy Mechanics team knew they could do better.

05_timelapse_candy_mechanicsPart then had what seemed like a crazy idea: why not try a CNC machine? Here, a precision drill is computer-directed to move in one of three directions, and carve into a stationary object; obviously, a piece of chocolate for Part’s idea. CNC machines usually work with much tougher materials than chocolate, such as metal and wood, but that’s what got Part thinking. Chocolate and wood are both soft enough to carve into shapes, but if handled appropriately, hard enough to retain that shape.

Will Leigh, Candy Mechanics’ confectionery directer, said, “Chocolate is a difficult product to work with. One of the key things to look at [when we began] was the drill speed. If this rotated too fast, it would melt the chocolate. In our testing phase, lots of things ended up covered in chocolate!”

lolpopOnce the team finished cleaning up all of that chocolate and figured out the perfect settings and cutting profiles, they created a customized CNC machine, which was named the Candy Carve…seems like a fitting title.

“We selected a CNC mill as the best method for mass production, as it can produce a similar level of detail [to a 3D print] in a fraction of the time and is highly reliable. For us, sacrificing a small amount of detail created a scalable process to bring these completely customized products to the world,” said Part.

At the same time Candy Mechanics were developing the Candy Carve, they also started to experiment with software, to determine a computerized system capable of converting customers’ faces into unique lollipops. The team landed on Autodesk, using its Forge API platform, as well as its ReMake (formerly known as Memento), so customers can upload short videos to the Candy Carve machine right from their smartphones. The Candy Carve software then uses the video to create a carve-worthy 3D image of the customer’s face.


Part said, “This is pretty amazing, as it makes Lolpops the world’s first customizable consumable product that can be created directly from a smartphone.”

In addition to the already popular Lolpops, the company introduced its second product last year – Candy Cards, where customers create unique designs, like birthday cards with balloon images or clever Valentines, through an online app.

The Candy Carve etches the design, and the edible card is shipped off. Candy Mechanics is continuing to develop more delicious ideas, adding a dark chocolate option, and allowing customers to order Lolpops sprinkled with edible gold dust.

Even though Candy Mechanics ultimately didn’t go with 3D printing, instead of trying to make it work and failing in an attempt to commercialize its product, the team dug deeper to come up with an easy, reliable production process that still utilizes 3D technology and customization.

Part says, “We aim to make 3D scanning and product customization accessible in a fun way that everyone, regardless of age or technical ability, can enjoy. What’s more fun than getting your face made out of chocolate?”

Discuss in the Customized Candy forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Autodesk Redshift]


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