Pumpkin cookies
The 3-D printing systems could replicate in the bakery what workers and chefs do by hand. Courtesy of BeeHex, Inc.

Pipings and pizza toppings

BeeHex, Inc., a robotics company that builds fresh food 3-D printing systems, seeks to offer automation benefits for its customers, which could range from in-store bakeries to pizza chains. Last March, BeeHex completed a $1 million seed round led by Jim Grote, the founder of Grote Co., which manufactures food processing equipment. 

“There has to be a return on investment for our customers,” said Benjamin Feltner, chief operating officer and co-founder of BeeHex. “We’re automating one or more of their processes that go on in their kitchen or in their food production facilities.”

Benjamin Feltner, BeeHex
Benjamin Feltner, BeeHex

The 3-D printing systems could replicate in the bakery what workers and chefs do by hand, like hand-piping for icing and frosting on cookies, cakes, cupcakes and donuts.

Food cartridges may be plugged into free-standing 3-D printing machines. Technology may automate dispensing of dry ingredients and toppings on food products. 3-D printing could also automate the placement of toppings on pizza for one example. Eventually, a 3-D printer might print a whole pizza, Mr. Feltner said.

BeeHex has a prototype 3-D food printer that is about 5 feet high and about 4 feet by 4 feet, Mr. Feltner said.

“Any alternative to what we’re doing is a $1 million machine, or something in that ballpark,” he said. “It’s huge and needs to be run in a large production facility where they would make hundreds of thousands of pizzas a day or thousands of cupcakes an hour. We’re able to do the automation but on a much smaller scale, right there fresh.”

BeeHex offers several options for purchasing its 3-D printing technology.

“Our goal is to offer the most cost-effective way to utilize customizable automation with a small footprint -- ideal for grocery stores and bakeries,” BeeHex said.

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Barilla 3D pasta printer

Transforming pasta

The pasta company Barilla, which is headquartered in Italy, but has its U.S. offices in Northbrook, Ill., is using a 3-D printer to create custom pasta shapes. Barilla has partnered with TNO, the Dutch Research Center (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) to develop a 3-D pasta printer that is able to produce fresh pasta in 2 minutes using dough prepared with durum wheat semolina and water. Pasta shapes such as vortices, moons and roses are possible.

The Tangible Media Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., has developed a concept called “transformative appetite” in which edible 2-D films made of common food materials like protein, cellulose or starch are transformed into 3-D food during cooking. Water absorption triggers the transformation.

A “flat packaging” concept may reduce shipping costs and storage space. Pasta, for example, may be flat during shipping and then transform into shapes like macaroni or rotini upon water hydration.