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3D Printing and Chocolate Making

A renowned chocolate maker is it  calling it the way of the future and an industry about to be disrupted – welcome to the world of 3D Printing and making chocolates. We are entering a new era where sophisticated production machinery like 3D printing are becoming affordable to SMME and this includes work from home startups. For those who are able to master the skills required to create 3D models – the future is bright in many ways as we predict this skill will be highly sort after in the near future. Ironically, the skills required  and knowledge thresholds to enter this field are lowering due to advances in newly developed and intuitive CAD packages been released such as that of Autodesk123D and other apps that are also available on mobile devices.

3D Printing is an emerging technology that is considered by many to be this century’s most disruptive technology. It is also a technology having the potential to enable massively distributed manufacturing systems. Although  we are not quite yet in the days where every household has become a mini factory, for those who view it as part of a value adding process, there exists many opportunities right now that are reducing costs and time to market of products – specifically, those sectors where some form of positive or negative  mould is required for generating higher volume production systems. This means that even in the food industry, 3D printing can offer a competitive advantage, and this includes the R6 billion a year chocolate industry South Africa has that is growing at 10% per year (Frost and Sullivan).

Unfortunately, while new possibilities arise from new emerging technologies and we ponder the many opportunities that we can pursue while we munch on our favourite cocoa bars, others are struggling just to make a living with limited access to resources to enable them to take advantage of these new opportunities. More concerning is this problem is getting worse, specifically for our youth: High school drop-out rate levels are high leaving millions of youth between 15 and 25 uneducated, unemployed, and disengaged in the economy. Formal education and often formal training is inaccessible to the vast majority of youth leaving them exposed to environments riddled with drugs, gangs and crime. We think one of the best strategies to make an impact is to develop ‘for profit’ Social Enterprises,  SMME’s and micro franchises that have a built in training and development model, with plug in management and support

Wouldn’t it be great if we could solve this problem by simply eating chocolate – well we have a vision and it makes the seemingly impossible possible.  Our aim is to create employment through sustainable mini ecosystems based on distributed manufacturing models (mini franchising as sub-model) with a central hub for skill training, volume purchasing, quality control and supporting technical services. Initial focus will be on setting up a hub for skills development in 3D modeling, 3D printing and molding processes. We will be training individuals using novel and interesting ways that simultaneously generate income (earn while you learn). Our vision is supported based on two case studies already completed  - one by an electrical engineer using 3D Printing to create corporate designer chocolate moulds, and the other by a psychologist who has piloted coffee shops in townships:

  • We have been researching and developing a better process that can be applied for example in the chocolate industry to create food grade chocolate moulds (and moulds in general) for both B2B and B2C scenarios. Our results have shown that by incorporating 3D printing into the mould production process, we can reduce the time of producing a custom mould from the current 6 weeks to less than a week. Additionally, costs are less and the threshold of creating low volume personalized or corporate branded chocolate moulds is significantly lowered i.e reduction of minimum order quantities now allows for more B2B opportunities due to the possibility of smaller scaled personalized orders.
  • Lowering the threshold for smaller production runs will significantly expand the B2B opportunities with smaller businesses able to afford the process of creating personally branded ‘marketable edibles’ and promotional events more frequently . New possibilities also exist such as creating scannable and edible QR codes which is currently not possible. Even personalized moulds for individuals e.g. example wedding events further expands the B2C market while simultaneously reducing costs and TTM – Furthermore, this model is not limited to the chocolate industry but can be replicated in other sectors including diverse crafts such as soap making, candle making as well as the very larger and profitable sector of ceramics .
  • Aside from the previously mentioned competitive advantages,  3D printing will also provide increased freedom for artistic approaches to molding products – the future of running a business by 3D modeling and molding at home with access to a PC has already arrived and again be applied to the chocolate industry. The door is wide open for creative design individuals with some 3D modeling experience.
  • Combined with the fact that these sophisticated CAD tools are becoming more and more intuitive and that the skill and knowledge threshold has become significantly lower, entry barriers are falling away. The cost of available CAD packages has also been lowered with many packages actually been offered free e.g. Autodesk123D, OpenSCAD and Sketch up 

The situation is ripe for setting up a series of small to medium franchisers such as  artisan ‘chocolate maker  type’ mini factories with centralized support function to guide and develop the micro enterprises. The concept and activities of our envisaged pilot chocolate shop will include:

  1. Train and develop Micro Franchisers.
  2. Provide the required tool chain, equipment and know-how t0 kick start franchises.
  3. Develop Modular System for moulds and equipment e.g. vibrating table with plug-in moulds.
  4. Stand in technical service for functions not yet mastered by the micro franchisers.
  5. Complete functions of the micro enterprises that have not yet been mastered (think on the job         training / in service training)
  6. Support for 3D printing, CAD, software etc.

 Further research, development:

Optimization of the model and expansion and skill transfer  for next opportunities including printing injection moulds for export quality chocolates and other sectors  and new opportunities e.g. soap moulds, candle moulds and cermics as well as many products to create other micro franchises and secondary nodes of expertise.

Next Steps:

Building on and exploiting synergies with Philip Cohen’s barrister training program, we will be designing a mini ecosystem that creates jobs – with centralized purchasing volume discounts, training, 3D modelling and printing hub to support a massively distributed group of franchises with future export potential (reference to  Unilever for example now print injection mould directly for creating products in their final materials for low volume production runs – volumes suitable for the chocolate industry.