3D printing - in chocolate

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Every new technology needs a killer app. And, for 3D printers, medical devices and plastic cups simply can't cut it.

But the chaps at the UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) aren't just pretty faces, and they've dreamed up the perfect application - 3D printing in chocolate.

Chocolate isn't an easy material to work with, they say plaintively, because it requires really accurate heating and cooling cycles, which then have to be integrated with the right flow rates for the 3D printing process.

But they say they've overcome these difficulties with the development of new temperature and heating control systems.

"What makes this technology special is that users will be able to design and make their own products. In the long term it could be developed to help consumers custom-design many products from different materials, but we’ve started with chocolate as it is readily available, low cost and non-hazardous," says research leader Dr Liang Hao, of the University of Exeter.

"There is also no wastage, as any unused or spoiled material can be eaten, of course!"

His team's now working on a consumer-friendly interface that would allow customers to design their own chocolate objects. He says he hopes that an online retail business will host a website for users to upload their chocolate designs for 3D printing and delivery.

Designs need not start from scratch, as users would also be allowed to modify designs created by others for their own use. Expect to see plenty of bunnies, hearts - and probably penises.