Dr. Liang Hao, who works at the University of Exeter, has been developing the process of ChocALM for a few years now. This process involves the use of chocolate as a material in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, in other words. He and his colleagues began work on what became the Choc Creator in October of 2011. Choc Creator 1
The Choc Creator is a simple, precise, and versatile desktop 3D chocolate printer. Its innovative design allows users to conveniently refill the printing head with fresh tempered or decorative chocolates. A fully stocked printing head can continuously print chocolates or decorative patterns for 15-30 minutes.
The printer was created in order to serve as a cost-effective solution for individuals, chocolatiers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses to make artistic, decorative, and seasonal chocolate products. The only thing it is unable to do, at least for now, is print support structures. Therefore overhangs can’t currently be built. However, Choc Edge is aiming to develop a future printer, which will have that kind of support structure capability.
The ChocALM printing process begins when a user melts chocolate buttons, chips, or bars in a heating or tempering unit. Then the user sets up the printing software and moves the printer into a suitable printing location. After that, the user uploads and sets up the design and generates the printing code. (G-code) The user then fills the now melted chocolate into a syringe and fits the syringe into the printer, so that its tip is positioned on top of the printing substrate. The user presses the ‘print’ button and the chocolate is automatically printed until completion. When it’s done, the user can take the printed chocolates away and refill the syringe with chocolate for the next build. (Or they could just discharge the remaining chocolate out from the syringe to keep as a back up)
The team at the University of Exeter chose chocolate as their medium for spreading the message of 3D printing technology for a number of reasons. As Dr. Hao says, “chocolate is an appealing material and many 3D printing hobbyists will find it a fun and low cost material to work with. In addition, 3D printed chocolates have great commercial potential as personalized gifts. At the moment, we target chocolatiers, retailing shops, and 3D printing hobbyists…”
However, in the future, Dr. Hao envisions something more ambitious: “the Choc Creator will become an appealing tool for people who want to…gain 3D creation skills. It will encourage people to create chocolate designs for themselves while also sharing them with other people. This collaborative, democratized chocolate creation will be empowered by emerging social networking and mobile technologies. In the future, people will design their chocolates on their iPhones and iPads and send them to their printers or printers in various places such as shops, restaurants, and homes.”
Diamond Jubilee Chocolate
Indeed, this sort of social sharing of 3D chocolate designs is already emerging. As with other 3D printing communities, Choc Edge’s has begun blossoming. Nowhere is this more evident than with Dr. Hao’s favorite chocolate creation he’s seen so far. A chocolate designer transferred a jubilee diamond queen profile (in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee this year) into a chocolate.
This sort of design illustrates a great strength of 3D printing: the ability to communicate. Dr. Hao would agree. “Chocolate is a great social product and we want people to co-create pleasurable social experiences from 3D chocolate design and printing.”
Images courtesy of Choc Edge