Last year, one of the world's biggest makers of 3D printing hardware, 3D Systems, had sailed into rough waters. First it was a class action lawsuit from angry investors who claimed management has misled them, then a plant closure, and finally the departure of their CEO under a cloud of controversy.
All of this would be somewhat tangential to foodtech other than the fact the company is the highest profile manufacturer to announce plans for a mass production 3D food printer. The company first signaled an entry into 3D food printing in 2013 with the acquisition of Sugar Labs, and by 2014 they'd announced the ChefJet and ChefJet Pro at CES. By CES 2015, they were talking about a mid-year release and showing off a demo.
But ever since, they've been pretty quiet when it comes to the ChefJet. They initially discussed a 2014 product ship date, which was bumped to a 2015 product ship date, but here we are in 2016 and still no ChefJet Pro.
All of this has made me wonder the past six months whether the ChefJet vision is still alive. After all, when a CEO leaves, often times their pet projects go with them, and the ChefJet was definitely one of former CEO Avi Reichental's babies.
So this week when I saw that the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) was still actively working with the 3D Systems ChefJet prototypes in this interesting profile by the Poughkeepsie Journal of the organization's additive manufacturing specialist Liam MacLeod, it gave me a little hope. After going dark for so long and delaying actually shipping its product for well over a year, CIA's MacLeod tells us that the company still has plans for 3D food printing. In fact, MacLeod told the Poughkeepsie Journal that 3D Systems plans to ship a version of the ChefJet based on the prototype he is using within a year.
Now, it could be that MacLeod is still under the impression 3D Systems while the company has different plans, but given the fact the CIA and 3D Systems had announced a formal relationship exploring 3D food printing, this seems like a legitimate sign that the ChefJet project is still alive. This is important because while the industry is excited about Natural Machines Foodini, the reality is Natural Machines is a startup with no track record of shipping product and they're over a year and a half past their promised ship date. 3D Systems, on the other hand, is one of the big two 3D printing companies (the other being Stratasys, who has not announced any intention of getting into culinary), with a track record of shipping products.
Bottom line: there's still a chance the ChefJet might not ship, but given this is the first sign we've seen in a long while that it's still alive, we'll take it.