The DIY market is on fire, along with 3D printer sales in international markets like China, as the viral pandemic keeps many at home looking for things to do. Gardening, cooking, and eating have certainly been at the top of the list too for hobbyists and epicurean types these days, but many of us still enjoy the luxury of foraging beyond the hearth for other fare. Getting take-out may have you worried regarding the potential for germs spreading during preparation, but what if your birthday cake was made by a robot instead?
Businesses like Sugr-Bot Bakery are betting on a secret weapon during these times: 3D printing. Open at the Edge Innovation Hub in Gahanna, Ohio, Sugr-Bot offers cakes and cookie cakes—all prepared with very little human interaction as template shapes for cookies and cakes are loaded into the printer for decoration via extrusion. If you live in the area, look forward to ordering your cake online ($18 for cakes, $12 for cookie cakes) and having it delivered within two hours.
“We think there could be a huge market for this,” said Anjan Contractor, CEO of BeeHex LLC, and owner/operator of Sugr-Bot.
The confectionary concept sounds not only delicious and affordable, but also slightly exotic during these times of stay-at-home orders and paranoia about going out altogether. Contractor, however, is no stranger to innovative ideas regarding food—or the major ups and downs that often accompany the business.
Competition can be quite fierce overall within the food arena, and many 3D printing ideas surrounding food have either fizzled or are still in long-term development. BeeHex, however, founded in 2013, has spent little time floundering financially. Quickly discovered by NASA, it initially received $125,000 in grant money to develop its proprietary Chef3D food printer.
NASA is known for its extensive research and development resources, with billions of dollars poured into studies regarding space travel, as well as many of the more peripheral details, to include 3D printing of tools and medical supplies while in space, methods for creating sustainable habitats on Mars once colonization is possible, new spacesuits for astronauts—and, of course, food. NASA’s ambitions to spice up the menu for astronauts brought BeeHex into the fold, with co-founders Anjan Contractor, Chintan Kanuga, Jordan French and Ben Feltner hinging their dreams on being the next startup to achieve fame via 3D-printed food—in space, no less.
The collaboration centered around the idea of expanding from space food to real food, allowing astronauts to choose from a variety of options and prepare their own meals while on missions; however, that notion quickly expired when conservative politicians honed in on the research and saw the program quickly de-funded—a result of being highlighted in Republican Senator Tom Coburn’s ‘Wastebook’ (describing a portion of the budget being designated for a $125,000 pizza).
While plans to head into space may have been thwarted, the BeeHex team continued on to land $1 million in funding later from Donato’s Pizza owner Jim Grote. Turning to the US consumer market, BeeHex moved cross-country to Central Ohio with the help of Grote, and also began decorating high-tech cakes with the same basic premise (aside from simple design and code changes) for food preparation and printing as pizza.
BeeHex continues to expand its vision, now also selling and leasing their hardware to other entrepreneurs. So far 11 machines have been sold. It is also working with the U.S. Army, in a collaboration to produce customized protein bars.
[Source / Images: Columbus Business First]
“Pizza is still in the pipeline, but that’s more complex,” Contractor said. “We’ll return to that down the road.”
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