3D-Printed Food and AI, The Future Looks Yum!

With more innovation in the food printing industry, we may even have commercialised units which could be used in Indian households in the near future
3D food printing
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In August this year, an advertisement for a dosa ‘printing machine’ caught everyone’s attention. Developed by Chennai-based Evochef, to use this dosa printer, the user just has to put the dosa batter, set their preferences (thickness, number of dosas, and crispiness), and the printer will ‘print’ out the dosas.

While this little innovation was received with mixed reactions (the dominant emotion being amusement), it presents the right opportunity to speak about the up-and-coming field of 3D food printing.

According to a report by Allied Market Research, the global food 3D printing market generated a revenue of USD 226.2 million in 2021. The value is expected to reach USD 15.1 billion by 2031, at a 52.8% CAGR between 2022 and 2031. Europe was reported to hold the largest market share – more than a third of the global market. This trend is expected to continue in the immediate future. 

Speaking of India in particular, the 3D printing market overall is valued at USD 92.34 million in 2022 and is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 20.33% by 2028. While industrial applications take the major share of the pie, 3D food printing is also a growing industry.

Imaginarium is one of India’s leading private companies working in rapid prototyping and manufacturing. Using 3D printing, the company provides prototypes to industries like consumer goods, engineering, automotive, architecture, and food. It recently made its 3D food printing appliance, called Foodini, commercially available. Priced at Rs 16,000, Foodini can be fed fresh ingredients to make freshly printed meals and snacks.

Credit: Imaginarium

Print your food

3D food printing is a process of manufacturing food items using several additive manufacturing techniques. The food manufactured by these printers can be customised in shape, texture, colour, nutrition, and flavour, which allows this technique to be used for several applications ranging from space exploration to healthcare. 

In the current available techniques, 3D food printers use nozzles, lasers, robotic arms, and fine materials. The material flows from the print cartridge to the printing platform and protects the solid build up on the platform. 3D food printing can be used to make crystallised sugar cake, ready-to-bake pizzas and raviolis, elaborate chocolate designs, and yeast structures that can sprout over time.

Analytics India Magazine spoke to Dr Jeyan A. Moses, assistant professor and in charge of computational modelling and nanoscale processing unit, NIFTEM-Thanjavur, to understand more about the process of 3D printing. “There are different kinds of approaches to how food is printed. One of the most explored areas is extrusion-based 3D printing. The approach best matches with the shear-thinning behavior that most food matrices exhibit. . This helps in creating different shapes and designs of the food being printed,” said Dr Moses.

Food printing allows customisation to determine and include just the right quantity of vitamins, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients to suit a particular user. It also saves energy and time when experimenting with different types of dishes. 3D printing also helps in food reproducibility and eventually minimises food wastage. Together with AI, 3D-printed food could be further enhanced. For example, in nutrition, a patient’s vitals, like sugar level or vitamin deficiency levels, could be directly linked to the machine to produce the most nutritious item.

“3D printing can exceptionally complement traditional manufacturing when the requirement is that of a highly customisable and smaller batch-size product. Since this is a niche area, 3D food printing in particular, currently finds limited takers. I see that the industry can be extremely helpful in the health, nutrition, and hospitality sectors,” said Dr Rashmi Sharma, head at Webel Fujisoft Vara Centre of Excellence. The CoE is a Government of West Bengal initiative and developed by Vara Technology India and Fujisoft Inc Japan.

Government initiative

A lot of substantial work and R&D in the 3D printing industry, in India’s context, started happening in the past decade. On behalf of the government, most of this work in India is carried out by the National Institute of Food Technology, Entrepreneurship and Management – Thanjavur (NIFTEM-Thanjavur; formerly known as Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology), which has been labelled as an institute of national importance under MoFPI, Government of India.

NIFTEM-Thanjavur received the first funded research project on using 3D printing for personalised nutrition in 2018. The idea was to identify individual requirements to personalise food to optimise it to that nutrition level. The research team at NIFTEM-Thanjavur has also come up with “world’s first fully-authored book on 3D food printing published by Wiley,” Dr Moses told AIM. He also said that the institute is now advancing to explore 4D, 5D, and 6D printing.

One of NIFTEM-Thanjavur’s major breakthroughs in 3D food printing is the CARK (Controlled Additive Manufacturing Robotic Kit) – a 3D food printer. The institute now aims to scale up the technology and make it feasible for industrial-scale operations. It is also working to develop a 3D printer that can print snacks appealing to the Indian palate.

Each of these units could cost upwards of Rs 4 lakh, but as Dr Moses said, with more innovation in the food printing industry, we may even have commercialised units which could be used in Indian households in the near future.

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