It is no secret that chocolate is a universally loved food. In fact, the average American eats over nine pounds of chocolate per year. Since 2013, both 3D printing companies and chocolate companies have increasingly invested in 3D printing machines for uses within the industry. 3D printing of chocolate allows companies to offer custom products to their customers at a much lower price than in the past, and if developments continue, it could change the way chocolate is manufactured as a whole. Both chocolate and 3D printing companies that are investing in this technology may be eligible to take advantage of the Research and Development Tax Credit.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- New or improved products, processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.
The use of 3D printing in the chocolate industry has given users more options for customizable treats than ever before. The printing process operates almost exactly the same way as traditional 3D printing, although attention to temperature is required. With simple CAD drawings, customers and users can see their edible creations come to life. Users can also enjoy incredibly complex 3D designs that would be impossible to design with hand sculpting and molding. Customization like this is already available to consumers at Hershey’s Chocolate World locations. Customers can take a “selfie” of themselves and friends and watch their faces be planted on a Hershey bar or they can use an iPad and select a preset design.
As stated above, 3D printing of chocolate is very temperature-sensitive. The process can also be time consuming because of temperature issues. The chocolate must be heated enough to melt to allow for manufacturing, but the bottom layers must also be cool and dry enough to allow the object to hold its shape. Unlike 3D printing with plastic and metal, chocolate is more limited in designs in terms of height and structure.
Mars Inc. might be the most interesting company in the confection and chocolate industry because of the fact that they are a private company and extremely secretive. While Mars Inc. has not explicitly stated that they are investing in additive manufacturing, their VP of Marketing in the UK, Michael Magee, has hinted at the possibility. In 2014, he stated “And who knows, one day you might have a virtual Mars factory in your home, with the ability to order online and print your favourite bar on your 3D printer.”
Hershey’s and 3D Systems
In 2015, Hershey’s and 3D Systems collaborated to create the CocoJet 3D printer. The CocoJet is on display and makes custom creations for customers at Hershey’s Chocolate World locations. The companies maintain a strong relationship to this day with iterations being made periodically. This relationship shows the potential of 3D printing within the chocolate industry, as they are both two of the largest companies in their fields.
Mondelez International, parent company of brands such as Toblerone, Cadbury, Oreo, Chips Ahoy!, Ritz etc., is yet another large chocolate provider who has invested in 3D printing. At the South by Southwest festival in 2014, consumers lined up to create their own custom 3D printed Oreo cookie. While the company has not publicly displayed their chocolate 3D printing capabilities, Sanjay Solanki, the global R&D head of new product development and innovation, stated “A few years ago it took weeks before we got a molded bar of chocolate to consumer testing. Now we can use 3D printing and do it overnight.”
Nestlé, the large multinational food and beverage company’s brands include KitKat, chocolate bars, Gerber, Coffeemate, Pure Life Water, Pellegrino, Stouffers etc. Nestle has been involved with 3D printing of food since 2013. In 2013, Nestle teamed up with Google to celebrate the newest iteration of the Android operating system called 4.4 KitKat. Nestlé reached out to local South African artists to come up with designs and the team printed the chocolate sculptures. The event was called “Android KitKat Presents Chocnology”. Unfortunately, Nestlé has not publicly disclosed any information since regarding the 3D printing of chocolate. However, Nestlé’s research and development division called NIHS (Nestle Institute of Health Sciences) is still actively invested in additive manufacturing with one of their higher-profile projects being called “Project Iron Man”. Project Iron Man scans the user, analyses what they are deficient in, and then prints food consisting of the nutrients they are missing.
Individual/Small Business Use
In 2013, an English company called Choc Edge created its first chocolate 3D printer called the Choc Creator. Unlike Hershey’s CocoJet the Choc Creator is available for the sale to the public for $3,200. The Choc Creator allows users to 3D print their own chocolate creations from a multitude of CAD sources. Although the company recommends dark chocolate, users can use any type of chocolate of their choosing. The relatively low price tag and its CAD flexibility present an exciting opportunity for chocolatiers. Chocolatiers who own and operate a small business can now offer their customers a myriad of designs that previously could not have been produced.
While we are years away from a world where every chocolate bar is 3D printed, it is important to note that the chocolate industry is a mature and global industry worth over $50 billion. Hershey’s investing heavily into 3D printing with 3D Systems and the rise of affordable home chocolate printers like Choc Creators could be indicators that the manufacturing of chocolate is going to change dramatically.
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Charles Goulding & Ian Brown of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed chocolate.
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