3D printing is attractive to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons, but in general its supporters talk about the economic and efficiency benefits; it can build things faster and easier than competing methods, bring down manufacturing costs and remove the need for large amounts of international shipping. That?s usually what you hear in defense of 3D printing ? but now, Italian food corporation Barilla is looking to 3D print their art.
It might seem surprising to hear such a sentiment from a company like Barilla, which works in the rather superstitious food world, and in particular in the highly traditional Italian food market. Specifically, Barilla is the world?s top pasta seller, accounting for fully a quarter of all pasta sold in the US. For more than two years, the company has been working with TNO Eindhoven to design the perfect pasta printer for use in restaurants around the world. Their goal for the prototype phase is a machine which can print 15-20 pieces every two minutes.
The idea leverages both the commonly cited abilities of 3D printing and the more touchy-feely aspects of fine cooking. In terms of efficiency, Barilla thinks their printer could get a dish in front of a customer in a few minutes flat. And since the printer lays down each layer individually, a custom-designed pasta noodle would take no longer than a simple fettuccine. That would certainly be a fun gimmick for a single restaurant or chain, but will it change how we consume pasta, overall?
As with so many industries, Barilla hopes to sell, not machines, but support for their machines. The 3D pasta printers will have a number of advantages over traditional flour-and-egg-and-roller arrangements, but notably won?t be able to take simple flour-and-egg mixtures. Barilla?s pasta cartridges are the real money-maker here, and the pricing per volume of pasta dough will likely be the number one concern here. Additionally, higher-end restaurants will likely turn away from pre-made dough in favor of an in-house mixture, even if only to appease customers.
Still, there is something appealing about Barilla?s idea of calling ahead to your Valentine?s Day dinner spot and arranging rose-shaped pasta noodles. Will that be enough to drive a shift in the food industry? Barilla hopes to have a prototype ready to pitch to buyers as soon as possible.