What are the benefits and challenges?
3D-printing provides some interesting benefits. The most relevant at the moment, and one of the growth drivers, is certainly freedom of design or the opportunity to shape the products in the desired way. This is relevant for complex and customized designs in indulgence products but similarly for texturing whole cuts of meat and fish. Additional benefits might be less food waste, easy reproducibility, and a possible personalization of food.
However, the technology was originally designed for prototyping and rapid product development in small quantities, not for food mass production. Hence, it comes with some challenges that need addressing before a large-scale production is feasible and cost efficient.
“We, at Redefine, currently face three main challenges, complexity in printing, food safety as well as costs and efficiency.” Eshchar Ben-Shitrit.
While 3D-printing allows for intricate designs it oftentimes limits the production speed. “We currently can produce 10kg of meat per hour. We could do more, but that would cost us quality and we don’t want that”, says Eshchar. In addition, the design is important in food, but for meat and fish a whole cut’s texture and taste are the more decisive aspects. “Combining different ingredients in a certain structure that mimics the mouthfeel and experience of eating meat is a very complex undertaking. Although we do a good job already there is a lot of room for improvement, and we will be better next week” says Eshchar. The cost of equipment and hiring adequately trained personnel is also a challenge that currently hampers scaling.
Another restricting factor to efficiently produce food is the limitation of food ingredients. The number of nozzles and containers is still quite small, allowing only for a certain amount of ingredients to be used. In addition, different ingredients might require different temperatures for the right viscosity, which might make storing and using them more challenging.
And in food, safety of course is paramount. For the extrusion process, the paste-like input needs to be at a certain temperature and viscosity, potentially preventing sterilizing treatments like cooking or due to fluctuating temperatures might allow microbes to grow. However so far, all companies seem to cope well with this aspect.