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January 17, 2014

Chocolate Fantasy: Hershey's Building 3D Printer

For those out there who are never quite sure what to get someone for a birthday, or Valentine's Day or the like, there's always chocolate. Few people turn down the sweet treat unless it's for medical reasons, and even then just a little goes a long way. Hershey's, meanwhile, is out to make chocolate not only tasty, but also attractively packaged with a new 3D printer. While normal 3D printers might work with metals or plastics, Hershey's version would work with, not at all surprisingly, chocolate.

Hershey's will work with 3D Systems, a maker of 3D printer technology, for the printer's development, a measure that 3D Systems reportedly referred to as a good way to help make the technology a more mainstream practice, while Hershey reportedly regards it as a great way to help get its products into more hands, and ultimately, more stomachs.

Of course, there are still some gray areas here as yet. There's no word on how much the new printer would cost—most consumer-grade 3D printers come in at the over $500 range and go up from there—nor how much the raw material would cost, what form it would come in, and when chocolate fans everywhere would be able to lay hands on such a device. There's also an issue over what exactly the device would be able to do, all told.

Some have projected that it will be little more than a candy bar maker, which by itself wouldn't exactly be a bad thing, if a little on the limited side. But others have wondered if the device might be a full 3D printer that works in chocolate, and can, accordingly, take advantage of 3D modeling systems like those introduced by Adobe for its popular Photoshop tool. This in turn would allow users to make actual items in the medium of chocolate, allowing for all manner of tiny chocolate statuary and the like that look almost as good as it tastes.

That might be the kind of thing that gift shops everywhere would welcome—chocolate versions of local attractions would probably sell pretty well at that—and certainly, Hershey's would likewise find a new avenue for sales a welcome development. If the costs aren't too high—or if Hershey's version would work well with plastic as well, a development that could be a possibility by simply alternating print “heads”, so to speak—then there might be an interesting means afoot to bridge the gap between 3D printing as a concept and 3D printing as an actual technology that makes sense in everyday life.

Only time, really, will tell just what kind of impact the Hershey's 3D printer might have on the overall 3D printing landscape. It could be a big thing, the kind of thing that easily bridges the aforementioned gap. Or it could be regarded as a curiosity only, and never really catch on with potential users. Still, the idea of shaped chocolate on demand is an exciting one.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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