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3D printing: coming to a candy store near you

Posting in Design

3D chocolate printer may help make consumer co-creation more palatable for businesses and product designers. They'll come back for more.

Here at SmartPlanet, we've talked about all the incredible economies and efficiencies that can be realized through 3D printing -- in which designs are sent from your computer to specialized printers pre-loaded with appropriate raw materials -- for everything from human replacement organs to houses to glassware. Even referred to as "personal manufacturing," the new emerging solutions have profound implications for our economic competitiveness.

All well and good. But let's get down to a really important application: researchers at the University of Exeter have just developed a 3D printer for chocolate.

Sound frivolous? Well, as designer Richard Evenson explains it, chocolate is a low-risk way to introduce businesses and students alike to the brave new world of 3D printing, driven by co-creation of goods by consumers:

"This opens up the possibility for the much wider participation of the consumer in the production process. Some people call it co-creation, where the consumer is fully part of the design process. Chocolate is a very easy place to explore how that would happen, because chocolate is not a safety-critical system in any way. Chocolate, if it goes horribly wrong, then all you have is a mess of chocolate. As we move away from just customization and toward co-creation, this sort of design also includes a Web interface which allows people not only to design their own system, but also collaborate with other people. Those are going to become much more pervasive."

Sounds good, professor -- but what really matters is we now have a cool way to make chocolate faster and in greater quantities!

(Video link: EPSRC.)

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure