March 14, 2014      

While stock analysts equivocate and investors gobble up shares,
3D printing technology keeps on truck’n along


Another industry challenged

Are the likes of Nestle, Cargill, Kraft, Unilever, Tyson Foods, Pepsico and General Mills?as well as the Metropoulos Brothers (new owners of Twinkies)?doing any hard thinking about 3D printing food?

They better be. Their shareholders sure are.

jetsons food machine

Do home appliance giants like Cuisinart, Braun or Hamilton Beach see 3D food printers elbowing food processors out of the kitchen?

Again, they better be.

What about the sight of choppers lowering 3D bread printers into isolated Ethiopian villages?

Does starvation now have a worthy adversary?

Villagers won’t even have to set up the machines or attach supplies of raw materials, a platoon of field robots will do that for them.

So why are some stock analysts warning us to beware of 3D printing? Like Barron’s Alexander Eule cautioning: “The new technology may hold great promise, but the stocks do not. Why the industry darling could tumble 80 percent.”

Eule’s “industry darling” is 3D Systems, shares up 370 percent over the past two years.

He agrees with Whitney Tilson, manager of Kase Capital, who thinks 3D Systems, for example, would be generously valued at three times revenue, which would put the stock at $15, 80 percent below its recent close.

Ouch!

CES 2015

I fully expect that next January when I fly in for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2015, the 3D Printing Zone will have expanded yet once again, and sure to be one of the biggest in that expansion will be the section of 3D printers that make human consumables, mainly, food.

CES 2014 didn’t have a 3D Twinkie printer, but it did have 3D Systems? ChefJet ($5K) and ChefJet Pro ($10K) that printed confections at the breakneck speed of 1-inch per hour.

ChefJet Pro was cool in its debut, but 3D printing candy is so last year.

Making real food is where 3D printing needs to go.

A hint of what might be headed for Las Vegas at CES 2015, I thought for sure would pop up at the recently concluded South by Southwest Interactive 2014 (SXSW) in Austin, TX.

3D food printers showed up, but real food didn?t.

In a super unappetizing promo, SXSW said: “New technology and advancements in 3D food printing, thermoplastic extrusion and bioreactor grown ‘test tube’ meat are producing some remarkable, tasty and healthy delicacies that are as good for the planet as they are for your body.” See what I mean by unappetizing?

SXSW’s 3D printing chocolatier, Levi Lalla, and his interlocking chocolate rings, was cool but still, it was candy. Lalla told Austin.360’s Addie Broyles that the practical applications of 3D food printing are limited. For the foreseeable future, 3-D printed food takes much more time and money to make than traditional food manufacturing or just regular old cooking.

Wow, incorrect and underwhelming!

With Americans spending over $2T annually to feed themselves; or, from a different perspective, with almost 870 million people, or 12.5 percent of the world’s population, undernourished, $10K 3D printers cooking up candies might well be due for a bit of reorientation.

Real money can be made 3D printing real food

Fortunately, others have done a lot of breakthrough thinking and breakthrough engineering with this same 3D printing food concept.

These are the folks who I’m betting will show up at CES for the 2015 Vegas experience; the same kinds of 3D printing developers who will sooner than later be invited into Nestle?s boardroom for a chat.

Laboratories as kitchens: The future in microcosm

In places like the Cornell Creative Machines Lab, the food side of 3D printing can be clearly seen emerging, printing edible food products that look amazingly appetizing.

fab food machine

Cornell?s machine won?t have its own cooking show on HGTV anytime soon, but the direction of the technology and the results are unmistakable.

The lab refers to its 3D food printing technology as Solid Freeform Fabrication (SFF), which ?has the potential to leverage its core strengths (e.g., geometric complexity, automated fabrication) and make its mark on the culinary realm by transforming the way we produce and experience food.?

That?s a lot better sounding than SXSW?s ?thermoplastic extrusion and bioreactor grown ?test tube? meat.?

?We quickly ran into the yuck factor,? said engineer Jeffrey Lipton, who leads the Cornell lab that has developed the 3D food printer. ?It was the Uncanny Valley of food,? he added. It was very close to, but still unlike, the cuisine people expected.

In addition to lowering barriers to SFF, such as cost of the machine, says Lipton, materials must be developed to feasibly enable a wide range of foods to be produced on SFF platforms.

Lipton and buddy, Adam Tow, spun off their Seraph Robotics from the Cornell lab. Their 3D printer product is called the [email protected] Model 3.

[email protected]?s name is derived from its mission. Fab is a shortened version of the word fabber (or fabrication device), and as the company?s goal is to make these devices portable, affordable, and part of every household, the ?at Home? inclusion in their name is fitting.

The French Culinary Institute is already developing [email protected] recipes, and a second printer is on its way to the New York City Culinary School. Chefs David Arnold and Nils Noren also have contributed recipes, and [email protected] hopes that many more chefs will create meals for the printer.

Fast Company reported, “Using corn masa dough, the lab team along with Chef Arnold printed a new form of corn chip in the shape of a flower that could be deep fried evenly.”

“If it were solid you would burn the outside before the inside was fried,” says Lipton. “By making it porous we can deep fry the whole thing at the same time. Therefore we can make much larger objects to deep fry.”

From novelty?to utility?to indispensability

The New York holding company, Essential Dynamics, is an organization with several startups contained within it, one of which is for the Imagine 3D printer. Its founder Jamil Yosefzai plans to bring out a commercial version as a 3D food printer that will retail for $1,000.

?Customization of foods has played an integral role in our 250,000 year history,? says Yosefzai. “As time passes, 3-D food printing we will go from novelty?to utility?to indispensability.”

It?s somewhere between ?novelty? and ?utility? when the CEOs of Cuisinart, Braun or Hamilton Beach will each suddenly develop an involuntary neck tremor.

And now for something really 3D food: The Foodini

food yummy

Jetting off to Barcelona you can find 3D printed food that is appetizing enough to actually sit down and eat.

TechEurope says that ?Natural Machines, based in the Barcelona Activa center in the west of the city, is working on a 3D printer that will produce?pasta (such as ravioli), breads?in fact, anything that starts life as a dough, paste or stiff liquid.

Even the website looks yummy

It?s called the Foodini, as in presto-change-o Houdini.

?Unlike other 3D printers, which typically print in a single material,? says TechEurope?s Ben Rooney, ?Natural Machine?s device can use six capsules, allowing much more complicated foods to be made. It also has a heater built in to keep the food warm during the printing process.

The Foodini, according to Chief Executive Emilio Sepulveda, will probably retail for around $1,366. He said that he thought home use would be the main market, but it could also be used in restaurants to produce some main menu items.

Although the device is quite slow, ?It is faster than made-by-hand and it is more consistent. It also frees up the time for chefs to do other things.?

Looks like the Jetson family’s food machine might be closer than we think.

We’ll know for sure from the aromas drifting up from the booths in the 3D Tech Zone at CES 2015.