As futuristic as it sounds, the 3D printing of food is already a technical reality - as is engineering the nutritional value of the printed food products.

For those reading this blog that do not have a product development background, you will have periodically seen news stories as landmarks in this technology have come to reality. Regardless of the details of the particular process, the basic principle involves a liquid or thermoplastic material that is "heated" by some means, allowing the source material to be deposited or fused in successive layers. These layers are built up or laid down to produce a three structure, based on a computer generated digital model. This can be done with multiple materials, having different properties such as colour, elasticity, stiffness all within the same part. Design of parts that could not be produced with traditional manufacturing process' are now viable, making products with physical characteristics never before possible. Think of it like your home ink-jet printer on steroids, with a technical tweak or two!

The world of 3D printing technology has only existed since 1984 which considering its achievements today is a clear demonstration of the pace of technology development we are all experiencing. The first patent was issued to one Charles Hull in 1986, his stereo-lithography apparatus (SLA) as it was called, being developed with the application of rapid prototyping in mind; to accelerate the pace of product and manufacturing development. He went on to be one of the co-founders of 3DSystems Corporation, which not surprisingly remains one of the largest and most active 3D 'Additive Manufacturing' companies in the World. In parallel, technology developed at the University of Texas by Carl Deckford developed a process called Selective Layer Sintering or SLS, that patent being issued in 1987 and later sold to 3DSystems. In 1989 Stratasys Inc. filed Patent of their proprietary process - FDM or Fusion Deposition Modeling. The pace of development has only intensified with multiple technologies coming to market and Patents being filed throughout the 1990's, 2000's and up to the present day. Aside the diversity of applications for Additive Manufacturing (the new term of 3D Printing)today, such as "printing of buildings and bridges, complex medical devices with multiple material properties, and even the capability to "3d-print" large and complex components such as wing spars for passenger aircraft, we should not be surprised that Additive Manufacturing technology has extended its reach into the food industry.

So back to the world of Fats, Oils and Grease and the Additive Manufacturing of food, which is admittedly in its infancy and some way from mass commercialization. How might this developing technology impact your favorite restaurant and its operation in the future? What are the knock on effects that may be seen day to day in the facility? How will "normal" kitchen practices be impacted and changed? Will for example there be a significant difference in the amount of water that is necessary to operate the kitchen or 'food preparation' area? Will there even be a kitchen as we know it today? Less water, equals less flow in the drainage system, perhaps less FOGS too with reduced preparation? Maybe we are talking limited or even zero discharge by comparison to today?

In the world of physics, (with the exception of superconductors perhaps), I remember being told by my physics teacher that "every action has an equal and opposite reaction" - and likewise the operational foodservice environment.

Beware the unintended consequences of development and technological change. That is of course not an excuse not to try to make things better, not to innovate - its simply a caution to employ and encourage collaborative Talent, Information, Technology and Expertise in your Futurology.

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