Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hershey and 3D Systems Working on Printing Chocolate 

The commercial manufacture of chocolates and confectioneries has remained largely unchanged in the recent past . However recently Hershey Co. has entered into multi layered joint development agreement with 3D systems to explore and develop ways to produce chocolates and other confectioneries using a 3D printer. 3D systems introduced ChefJet at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show which is a 3D printer capable of ‘printing’ with sugar. Similarly a 3D printer known as Foodini was unveiled recently which could print small pizzas. Furthermore normal 3D printers can be easily modified to handle the manufacture of food. This has clear implications on the supply chain between the company and the customer

While this idea seems far fetched we must consider that leading reports estimate that the number of 3D printers sold in the next year will double and the price will reduce significantly. This innovation allows a company like Hershey to build a highly agile supply chain while still maintaining the efficiency required by mass produced perishable products. This allows customers to enjoy the customizability associated with agile supply chains and the volume and quick delivery times of an efficient supply chain. Hershey imagines customers being able to custom build chocolates at the point of sale.

This method of supplying chocolates to consumers may not be able to match the modern supply chain in terms of volume but it does allow Hershey Co. to introduce an entirely customizable product line with minimal wait times and delivery times. A food grade 3D printer costs around $5000. While this is currently an expensive product we can see the potential that it creates. It is now possible to get custom printed chocolates in remote areas without the need for extensive manufacturing and supply chain links. A 3D printer or several printers might become a viable small scale and efficient manufacturing center in order to shorten the length of the supply chain. Since chocolates are perishable and temperature sensitive goods a shorter chain length would reduce prices and ensure that they are sold in the desired condition. 

As we can see from the video 3D printers also allow for the formation of extremely complex structures which might not survive standard delivery methods.

Overall this raises questions about the effect of 3D printing in general on the supply chain. If these machines can be modified to print food then there is scope to print other types of goods. This could shorten several supply chain links and lead to a fundamental reassessment of product design and the associated supply chain.


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