A Finnish company is working on high-tech vending machines that 3D print healthy, custom snacks on demand.
VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd has unveiled its ambitious plans to create the machines that we have only seen on Star Trek until now. The user experience element is all part of the attraction for VTT and the chance to see your food being printed is certainly a novelty that shouldn’t wear off too quickly.
The building blocks of food
Inevitably today’s customers want a healthier range of snacks than the typical vending machine fare of potato chips and chocolate.
VTT has started testing starch and cellulose-based materials and is working with a variety of different proteins, including oats, faba beans and whey. These simple building blocks should produce a vast array of different foods.
3D printed food is already with us, in a way, but the early efforts are a long way away from VTT’s grand plan. It has joined forces with the Aalto University in Espoo, Finland to work on creating genuine textures. It’s a much bigger task than it might initially sound, for instance, to print meat with a side salad and it’s holding up the whole process.
3D printing when it comes to food is coming on in leaps and bounds and the manufacturers are finding new ways to work to the equipment’s strengths. That means rethinking the food itself and providing combinations of textures and flavours that are difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional methods.
Get ready for some surprises from printed food
Crispy inclusions and shells, soft centres with surprising flavours and soft gels separating crisp layers are all possible with 3D printing. It is simply a case of finding tastes that appeal to the mass market that are actually economical and practical to mass produce.
“A great deal of work is needed in order to proceed to industrial-scale production,” admitted Nesli Sozer, principal scientist at VTT. “Equipment needs to be developed in addition to materials. Such equipment could be developed for domestic 3D food printing as well as vending machines.”
The company boasts funding from the Finnish agency for innovation funding, Tekes, and will concentrate on materials with the right flow qualities for 3D processing. A vending machine, for instance, will create a specific set of demands. It needs to be able to offer a broad range of foods and flavours from a limited number of ingredients.
VTT getting ready to sell to the world
Of course any kind of 3D printed vending machine is better than nothing, but the company clearly wants to make an impression and is prepared to put in the groundwork to ensure that the machine is as good as it can possibly be when it finally hits the market.
Inevitably VTT knows there is an international market just waiting for this technology. So it is working with a variety of Finnish partners, from software suppliers to hardware manufacturers. It wants to find the best solution to mass produce the vending machine and capitalise on this initial research phase when the time comes right now, so it isn’t swept away by demand and the inevitable competition.
The future is coming
The world is crying out for 3D printed food. The technology is tantalisingly close, when the production costs come down we can solve world hunger and life as we know it will simply change. This 3D vending machine is just one piece in a puzzle that is so large we can barely take it in right now, but we’re looking forward to this next generation food production.
We’re also looking forward to ordering our food from a machine and pretending to be Captain Jean Luc Picard, if only for a moment.