While refitting a 3D printer for food printing isn’t really a new idea, we liked the detailed summary that appeared from a team from the University of Birmingham which converted an i3 clone printer to use a syringe extruder.
The syringe in question was meant for veterinarian use and is made of metal. The paper suggests that the metal is a better thermal conductor, but it was’t clear to us if they included a heating element for the syringe. In the pictures, though, it does appear to have some insulation around it. In any case, we imagine a metal syringe is easier to keep clean, which is important if you are depositing something edible.
Now we can’t vouch for whether or not taking a custom supplement like this is any better than just popping a traditional multi-vitamin, but we’ll admit the hardware Nourished has developed is pretty interesting. As briefly seen in the video after the break, large syringes are filled with the seven different vitamin suspensions, and then loaded into what appears to be a heated chamber for extrusion. This is not unlike other food-grade 3D printers we’ve seen, such as the Cocoa Press.
It looks like all of the syringes are being depressed simultaneously with a plate and a pair of beefy lead screws, so it seems the order in which the layers are placed down must be different for each nozzle. A blog post on the company’s site from early last year shows a wildly different machine being used to produce the vitamins, so either their core technology is changing rapidly, or perhaps the printer being used depends on whether they’re running off the customized stacks versus the standard formulations.
Interestingly, this is very similar to a concept floated by the U.S. Army’s Combat Feeding Directorate (CFD) back in 2014. They reasoned that a 3D printer could be used to produce meal bars that were customized for each soldier’s personal nutritional needs. Being largely impractical for the battlefield, the program didn’t get very far. But thanks to consumers who are willing to pay the premium that Nourished is charging for this service, it seems the idea has turned into a lucrative business model.
What do you get when you combine oven-baked mussels and sugar beets in a kitchen blender? No, it isn’t some new smoothie cleanse or fad diet. It’s an experimental new recyclable 3D printing material developed by [Joost Vette], an Industrial Design Engineering student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. While some of the limitations of the material mean it’s fairly unlikely you’ll be passing over PLA for ground-up shellfish anytime soon, it does have a few compelling features worth looking into.
For one thing, it’s completely biodegradable. PLA is technically biodegradable as it’s usually made primarily of cornstarch, but in reality, it can be rather difficult to break down. Depending on the conditions, PLA could last years exposed to the elements and not degrade to any significant degree. But [Joost] says his creation degrades readily when exposed to moisture; so much so that he theorizes it could have applications as a water-soluble support material when printing with a multiple extruder machine.
What’s more, after the material has been dissolved into the water, it can be reconstituted and put back into the printer. Failed prints could be recycled directly back into fresh printing material without any special hardware. According to [Joost], this process can be repeated indefinitely with no degradation to the material itself, “A lot of materials become weaker when recycled, this one does not.”
So how can you play along at home? The first challenge is finding the proper ratio between water, sugar, and the powder created by grinding up mussel shells necessary to create a smooth paste. It needs to be liquid enough to be extruded by the printer, but firm enough to remain structurally sound until it dries out and takes its final ceramic-like form. As for the 3D printer, it looks like [Joost] is using a paste extruder add-on for the Ultimaker 2, though the printer and extruder combo itself isn’t going to be critical as long as it can push out a material of the same viscosity.
Most of our 3D printers print in plastic. While metal printing exists, the setup for it is expensive and the less expensive it is, the less impressive the results are. But there are other materials available, including ceramic. You don’t see many hobby-level ceramic printers, but a company, StoneFlower, aims to change all that with a print head that fits a normal 3D printer and extrudes clay. You can see a video of the device, below. They say with some modifications, it can print other things, including solder paste.
The concept isn’t new. There are printers that can do this on the market. However, they still aren’t a common item. Partially, this is a cost issue as many of these printers are pricey. They also often require compressed air to move the viscous clay through tubes. StoneFlower has a syringe pump that doesn’t use compressed air.