VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd aims to develop advanced food manufacturing technologies by combining expertise in food, material science and 3D printing technology. Healthy snacks with great textures are in increasing demand among consumers. Researchers have the long-term vision of developing high-tech vending machines that provide customised purchases.
Today's consumer expects healthy, nutritious food with added elements such as design, pleasure and even playfulness. Self-production would enable customisation in addition to these. 3D printing technology offers new opportunities to realise such expectations.
In its initial trials, VTT tested starch and cellulose-based materials for 3D food prototypes. It is also working on printability of protein concentrates of both plant (oat and faba bean) and dairy (whey protein) origin.
"However, a great deal of work is needed in order to proceed to industrial-scale production. Equipment needs to be developed in addition to materials. Such equipment could be developed for domestic 3D food printing as well as vending machines," says Nesli Sözer, Principal Scientist at VTT.
Texture is an important driver of the taste perception of many food products, and is behind many successful innovations. Brands are creatively combining textures with features such as crispy inclusions, soft centres and extra-crunchy toppings. 3D printing technology will enable the layer-by-layer manufacture of various structures, from crispy to soft gels that produce a distinctive mouthfeel.
The 3D food printing is an emerging and developing technology, with a great deal of active research ongoing.
Creating ingredient mixes with flow properties
A new Tekes-funded project coordinated by VTT in collaboration with the Aalto University targets at 3D printing of multi-textural food structures in a techno-economically feasible and sustainable way.
A specific aim of the partners is to create new ingredient mixes with suitable flow properties for 3D processing. The project will develop globally competitive expertise in 3D food printing technologies with subsequent technology innovations to be utilized by Finnish industries from various sectors such as ingredient, food processing, equipment manufacturing, software and online services and retail.