3D Food printer
Project from MECH4429 Integrated Capstone Experience
Project supervisor: Dr. Ko M.W.L. (Department of Mechanical Engineering)
Project leader: Au Chun Yin, BEng
Team member(s): Au Yeung Ho Lam, BEng; Kwok Hong Yiu, BEng; Lam Kin Ting BEng; Lee Hok Lun, BEng
The title of the project is “3D food printer”.
Prevalent around the globe, three-dimensional (3D) printing technology is capable to print objects with 3D printer using various materials; so does food material. Traditional cooking method tends to be enriched by 3D printing process. In addition, food printing technology now could also be applied in commercial cooking, where some restaurants use it as gimmick. Therefore, the topic of this project is to transform an ordinary 3D printer into a food printer and explore the printable food material. Primarily 3D food printer is made to cater people with chewing and swallowing disorder, given that meals produced by food printing could be customized by patients that balance nutrition needs and visual appeal, in contrast of hospital-styled unappetizing pureed food. Hence, the motivation of this project is to introduce an accessible, affordable and manageable 3D food printer for ordinary family, especially whose family member has eating difficulty.
There are three sections in the project: building and remodeling the 3D printer, rebuild the extrusion system and the ejection mechanism specifically for food material on the store bought 3D printer; experimenting food materials that have the suitable rheological properties for printing with help of professional scientific instruments; rewriting the software programme that controls printer with applicable settings. After that printing trials are conducted to justify the chosen food material and to explore the best set of parameters for the remodeled 3D food printer.
This project transfers multiple skills to students: first, students can thoroughly understand the working mechanism of 3D printers by practically remodeling the chosen model 3D printer into food printer; secondly, students may experience academic research on different types of extruder, material and firmware which are suitable for application; moreover, students would acquire better team building and communication skills through collectively responsible group decision-making process. In addition, students will also be required to handle unpredictable challenges in the progress.
Let those difficulties we found in our project as examples. At first, there were many errors in the printing trials and the printing results were not satisfactory. After adjustments and calibration, our remodeled printer could finally print out some simple shapes with food printing material. Thus, students will learn to overcome challenges with their own strengths.
This project allows students to take a proactive role to manipulate and modify a 3D printer, from constructing the printer; experimenting food material; trialing software, which realizes their theoretical knowledge through hands-on experience. Furthermore, it is a valuable experience for students to handle a project that could possibly impact society and benefit people with chewing and swallowing difficulties.
This project is also a preview of an engineering project at workplace in real life that as well requires preliminary research, feasibility analysis, customer marketing investigation and budgeting, which could be a comprehensive training for students becoming professional engineers whom should acquire excellent management skills, team-building ability and technical proficiency.
The biggest challenge faced in the project was the slow flow rate of food material during extrusion. After the printer was assembled with our own designed extrusion system and ran its first trial with food material, the result is disappointing that the slow flow rate of food material resulted in a long printing time. Regarding the aim of introducing food printer for domestic use, producing dinner for hours would not be acceptable. The team had tried ways to increase the flow rate, for instance, the team redesigned the extrusion system, used a stronger motor, changed the receipt of food material for better viscosity. It was excited that the printer was finally able to print the food into shape after adopting the above changes albeit the speed of printing is slow. In the future, improving the speed of printing will be further studied.
Different from other research-based projects, this project requires students to consider of people’s feeling towards the 3D food printer, the printing process and the printed product. The aim of the project is not simply building a machine that can print food, instead it stresses that the food printer could become a reliable source of meal for everybody, including the elderly, the kids, and people with eating disorder.
Hence, the project does not only trains students’ engineering skills and knowledge, but also helps them understanding the responsibility of engineers: bridge between scientific discoveries and their subsequent applications to human and quality of life.