3D printing has taken off in countless industries and professions. Food isn’t one of them.
Not that people haven’t tried. There’s been a number of startups and a big company or two working on 3D food printing in recent years, but for the most part the technology’s been adopted by a fairly small handful of culinary adventurers.
One French 3D printing executive thinks food printing’s lack of success is due to those trying to convert their ideas into printed food with general purpose 3D model printing software (software for converting a 3D model to the printer is called ‘slicer’ or ‘slicing software’). This, Marine Coré Baillais says, leads to suboptimal results.
Baillais, the founder of a French 3D food printing consultancy called The Digital Patisserie (La Pâtisserie Numérique), told me that the reason general purpose 3D printing software doesn’t work well is it’s designed to print with materials like plastic filament, not food paste. This usually leads to less than optimal results because a food paste has unique characteristics that make it much different than filament.
“Paste is a viscous material and when you extrude it with a syringe, you need to consider pressure that changes during the 3D printing,” said Baillais. Baillais also said that viscous materials like paste are also difficult to retract during printing, which can lead to defects in the print.
This led the former deputy CEO of French 3D printing services company Sculpteo to think about creating her own software which would allow her to print with things like paste and create a continuous printing path.
“The idea came to me when I started to 3D print food myself, I adapted a syringe on one of my FDM (note: FDM stands for ‘fused deposition modeling’, a 3D printing process) printers,” said Baillais. “I took the software I normally used and it was not working.”
So she got to work on developing software. Her company partnered with the University of Technology at Troyes, France last year and set out to create software that would create specific G-Code (the control language used to communicate with the 3D printer) for a paste-based 3D printer that would relay the nozzle size, layer height, print speed and compensation for the first layer.
The team has gotten far enough to start printing with 3D food printers and they created a video of the software printing (what else) a replica of the south-facing rosace of the Notre-Dame.
I asked Baillais why she decided to tackle 3D food printing after working at a big 3D printing services startup focused on enterprise applications. She told me it was in part due the frustration that had built up over the past decade at the relative lack of interest from the food industry in using 3D printing. She also has passion for making food, particularly French pastries, so much so that she went to culinary school and got trained as a pastry chef.
With her new pastry chef diploma in hand, she went to work at the age of 44 in the restaurant of the historic Le Meurice hotel. It was at Le Meurice where she also learned why many chefs don’t like working with machines and why the current 3D food printing technology isn’t satisfactory for them.
And so it’s this combo of 3D printing expertise and high-end culinary training that led Baillais and her company to their current state, a working version of their software in just a year. The team is currently working on finding more testers and potential partners to use her software.
Eventually she hopes to commercialize the software either as a stand-alone software application or a plug-in to generic software. She has hopes that by making 3D food printing easier with better software, it will lead to greater adoption of 3D food printing.
“At Sculpteo, we were always building applications with our clients, so they can get the best of this technology that I love,” said Baillais. “I hope that we’ll do the same for the chefs with this new company.”