For years we’ve been hearing about how 3D printing is going to revolutionize this and that. Every time a new round of “Next Big Thing” talk starts, there are incredibly interesting examples of innovation leading the way, but then the momentum just seems to evaporate.
That’s not to say that the various teams and organizations working on 3D printing solutions just stop when we’re not shining a spotlight on them. However, it seems that 3D printing, while becoming a catalyst for independent production and innovation, has yet to make the leap into practical consumer application.
One of the strongest examples of this is food printing. There has been a vast array of companies taking a stab at printing food for convenience, nutrition, and access—but none have been able to make the jump from lab to living room.
New startups such as Jet-Eat and NovaMeat are looking to change that by using the technology to create convincing facsimiles of meat by 3D printing them with plant proteins. The printing process allows them to better control the taste, texture, and form that the plant-based foods take. This means that 3D printed plant-steaks, indistinguishable from traditional ones, could be right around the corner. This could have a huge, lasting impact on not just the industry of food production, but the availability of quality, nutritious foods on a global scale.
3D printing is also making solutions specifically for niche diets more available. Researchers recently figured out how to infuse probiotics directly into baked goods. The implication of this innovation is that consumers could have broad access to food specifically designed for them—addressing needs such as gluten sensitivity and food allergies—by simply printing their food to those specifications.
Perfect Day has found a new way to create actual dairy milk without the cow—by printing it. The San Francisco-based company uses biotech 3D printers to cultivate and filter dairy proteins. The method results in dairy milk that is vegan, lactose, hormone, and antibiotic-free, high in protein, and has a longer shelf life than the milk we’re used to.
3D printing, more than ever, seems like it’s on the verge of greatness. The technology is finally living up to the lofty visions that people had for it when it was first introduced. Perhaps this time the market is ready for the Next Big Thing™ to become a household product. Soon we could all be eating our plant-steaks with a tall glass of machine-milk while we watch the newest art for our house take shape in front of us.