3D printing is enormously popular right now, mostly because it means you can manufacture anything you want in your house, as long as it’s made of plastic. But new materials are being pioneered all the time, from metal to wood, and now… sugar.
The process started as an attempt to 3D print a cake on the part of two graduate students, since they didn’t actually have an oven. That didn’t work out so well, but after a lot of trial and error, they managed to print out her name, in cursive, using sugar. But how?
Cleverly, by using the properties of sugar itself. Instead of feeding sugar through a tube, instead the Sugar Lab uses a mix of alcohol and water that carefully moistens a pre-selected area. Once the sugar hardens, it moves on to the next layer, slowly building something out of fused, hardened sugar until there’s a complete structure for you to put on a cake or in your coffee.
As you can see from the photos, it’s a powerfully effective technique. As anybody who’s had to clean up frosting can tell you, hard sugar is amazingly strong, which is why you generally need to dissolve it instead of peeling it off. The result is that you’ve got something that’s solid and more durable than other sugar techniques, albeit you’re not going to be building skyscrapers out of this stuff, but will quickly dissolve in the presence of fluid.
The main question, of course, is not how long it’ll be before Sugar Lab farms out its process to cake decorators, or how long before you can do this yourself, but rather how long it will be before they get their own reality show. Producers, if you pull the trigger, we get a finder’s fee.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.