US Army Investigating 3D Printers for Food Production

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Army researchers are investigating ways to incorporate 3-D printing technology into producing food for Soldiers.

The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's, or NSRDEC's, Lauren Oleksyk is a food technologist investigating 3-D applications for food processing and product development. She leads a research team within the Combat Feeding Directorate, referred to as CFD. 

"The mission of CFD's Food Processing, Engineering and Technology team is to advance novel food technologies," Oleksyk said. "The technologies may or may not originate at NSRDEC, but we will advance them as needed to make them suitable for military field feeding needs. We will do what we can to make them suitable for both military and commercial applications."

On a recent visit to the nearby the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory, NSRDEC food technologist Mary Scerra met with experts to discuss the feasibility and applications of using 3-D printing to produce innovative military rations.

"It could reduce costs because it could eventually be used to print food on demand," Scerra said. "For example, you would like a sandwich, where I would like ravioli. You would print what you want and eliminate wasted food."

"Printing of food is definitely a burgeoning science," Oleksyk said. "It's currently being done with limited application. People are 3-D printing food. In the confectionery industry, they are printing candies and chocolates. Some companies are actually considering 3-D printing meat or meat alternatives based on plant products that contain the protein found in meat." 

A printer is connected to software that allows a design to be built in layers. To print a candy bar, there are cartridges filled with ingredients that will be deposited layer upon layer. The printer switches the cartridges as needed as the layers build.

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