For any 3D printing fan with a sweet tooth, the unveiling of the ChefJet and ChefJet Pro 3D printers at CES 2014 was a major highlight. Displayed in brilliant colors and ornate shapes at the 3D Systems booth were immense cake toppers that were impossible to miss. The technology was brought into being by Kyle and Liz von Hasseln, founders of 3D Systems’ then-latest acquisition, The Sugar Lab.
Later that year, however, doubt began to surround the future of 3D Systems’ new sugar printing technology as former CEO Avi Reichental faced scrutiny from the board of directors and the stock market. Since then, we’ve heard tidbits here and there indicating that sugar printing was still under the company’s purview, despite the shelving of its consumer 3D printing unit.
It wasn’t until now that we had confirmation that the technology is alive and well and will be heading to market through a partnership with Brill, Inc. To learn more, we spoke to David Nies, Brill’s Vice President of Business Development.
One of the reasons that The Sugar Lab made a great fit for 3D Systems was that the startup’s technology was based on 3D Systems’ own binder jetting process. Initially developed at MIT and licensed to Zcorp, binder jetting involves the deposition of a liquid binding agent into a bed of powder, building an object up layer by layer. Zcorp, acquired by 3D Systems in 2012, perfected the technology by incorporating a full color printhead that enabled the creation of vibrant, colorful 3D models.
The Sugar Lab swapped out the gypsum used by Zcorp with powdered sugar and replaced the binder and coloring agent with food safe ingredients. Under 3D Systems, the result was a technology that could 3D print a rainbow of complex shapes with interesting flavors. However, that was just the beginning for what Brill and 3D Systems now have in store.
Established in 1928, Brill is a provider of bakery ingredients and products, ranging from icings and glazes to cookies and cakes. While consumers might be less familiar with the name, bakeries and food service operators across North America are sure to recognize it. They may also know the many other subsidiaries owned by Brill’s parent company, CSM Bakery Solutions.
Now, Brill is taking the leap from pastries and fillings to food 3D printing via a partnership with 3D Systems that began in 2017. While 3D Systems has focused on the technological development of software and hardware, Brill has developed the flavored powders and liquid binding agents that work together to print objects. Together, the partners will be introducing the Brill 3D Culinary Studio powered by 3D Systems this summer.
“When the Brill 3D Culinary Printer is launched this summer it will be the most advanced food 3D printer ever developed; capable of printing dozens or hundreds of objects simultaneously in full color and in amazing detail. It has taken significant research and invention to get to where we are now and I’m really excited to see this technology finally land in the capable hands of chefs who will no doubt drive immediate advancements in the culinary arts,” said Kyle von Hasseln, director of Culinary Technology at 3D Systems.
Thanks to Brill’s existing customer relationships in the food industry, it will be able to get the 3D Culinary Studio to chefs and other culinary artists at high-end restaurants, casinos, hotels, theme parks, cruise ships and catering companies. Nies explained that his team envisions clients using the technology in one of two ways: to produce larger showpieces that won’t be consumed or smaller, edible pieces.
In addition to the liquid binding agents that will be jetted into a bed of powder to deliver the full spectrum of color in any printed piece, Brill is developing a wide variety of flavored powders to give chefs a range of choices. Flavors range from strawberry or watermelon, intended mostly for deserts, to cucumber, intended for drinks. Brill is even exploring savory options.
“We have partnered with chefs who have investigated the use of 3D-printed savory-flavored objects in soups,” Nies told us. “That’s truly what we think is unique about this particular solution: not only will the system produce incredibly beautiful pieces, but it will also provide an amazing and complete sensory experience for our customers’ consumers — from the visual to the textural to the whole eating experience. What we’ve been able to develop in terms of flavor with powders is pretty remarkable in the sense of delivering trueness of flavor.”
When initially showcased at CES 2014, prices were listed at $5,000 and $10,000 for the ChefJet and ChefJet Pro, but the Culinary Studio may be different. Nies says that the exact cost will be discussed with customers directly and that it should fit within professional kitchen budgets. Included in the package will be the software, printer, finishing station (depowdering is necessary in sugar printing as well as traditional binder jetting), installation and training.
Regardless of the exact numbers, Nies believes that the 3D Culinary Studio can reduce cost and labor compared to methods for creating anything similar with traditional (manual) methods. Moreover, this technology can fabricate food objects impossible by any other means.
Chefs and culinary artists may be able to afford it, but will they be able to design for 3D printing? In addition to the package mentioned above, customers will also have access to a library of 150 to 200 3D models. If they want a custom design, they will be able to access a 3D design service developed exclusively for Brill 3D Culinary Studio to have their concept modeled for a small fee. The model is then theirs to keep and, through training provided by Brill, customers will be able to change the color, personalize, or add a company logo to the design within the software.
“One thing we’ve learned through user testing is that when someone has initially made an assumption that the 3D printer would be difficult to use or understand, they’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to use,” Nies said. “What we really want to try to do is let the culinary artists handle the art and let us handle the technical side of things and make it easy for you to produce anything you can imagine.”
Nies says that Brill’s waitlist for the Culinary Studio is already substantial, though customers cannot yet be revealed. The product will be officially on the market this summer. In the meantime, Brill will be opening a showroom at its offices in Atlanta, Georgia this spring, where potential clients can see the technology in person.
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