Since the 1980s, when they cost around $500,000 each, 3D printers have come a long way toward common use, with personal models costing as little as $1,000 these days. And the increasingly common nature of 3D printers means that they’re finding their way into a number of industries. Now, according to Dr. Hod Lipson, an engineering professor at Columbia University, they’re poised to start moving into the food industry as well.
In fact, 3D printers have already starting making some headway in “food manufacturing,” though they haven’t seen much use yet. One example though is PepsiCo, which uses 3D printing to prototype different shaped and colored potato chips. They’re made of plastic, but they give focus groups a much better idea of what a final product might look like than an illustration.
What about using 3D printers to make actual food? The possibilities are many, with the potential to print out single serving food that actually tastes like food. One day, consumers might be able to simply cue up a meal, insert the correct cartridge, and print out exactly what they want. Obviously, though, there are a lot of factors that still need to be figured out, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t already working on it.
Mary Scerra, who works in research and development for the United States Army, says that the army envisions using 3D printers to create food for soldiers in the battlefield as early as 2025. Such technology, if it develops, could provide specific meals to meet the needs of different soldiers, instead of forcing them to rely on staples that meet as broad a need as possible. Different caloric or nutritional needs, depending on the kind of duty that a given soldier is performing, or even their own personal taste at the moment, would determine what kind of food they print out.
Scerra did point out that the food would have to taste right or soldiers won’t eat it, no matter how nutritious is it. That seems like it would apply to civilians, too.