In December 2016, I shared a story about two Autodesk employees who CNC'd (computer numerically controlled) personalized creations using chocolate.
Thanks to Autodesk Forge, Philippe and Lucas are not alone. Actually, lots of people make edible 3D printables or CNC-ables, but this blog post covers a company that is doing so with the help of Forge.
Recall that Forge is a:
- Platform (collection of Application Program Interfaces) and supporting materials (e.g., sample code, manuals)
- Community of developers who uses those APIs
At Autodesk, we use Forge for our own development, but Forge is intended for our customers and 3rd party developers to be able to leverage/extend our web services. Candy Mechanics is one of those developers. Here is their story.
“Know who you are and tell the world.” That's the prompt Sam Part had to answer as part of a design project at London's Kingston University. He pondered what that meant for him and came to a reasonable answer: He was a likeable guy, but in his notes, Part inadvertently wrote, "I'm a lickable guy." That error, it turned out, was sweet inspiration.
To complete his project, Part created something he called a Lolpop, a highly detailed 3D rendering of a person's face in chocolate lollipop form. That design later received a nomination for a D&AD New Blood Award, a renowned competition that recognizes the work of young creatives.
Six months after that first Lolpop, Part and Ben Redford co-founded Candy Mechanics, but the work of getting Lolpops out into the world had only begun. Taking a classroom project and scaling it to meet real-world demand — that’s where ingenuity and some unique tools came into play.
The journey included trial and error. First, Candy Mechanics tried 3D printing. The quality of 3D prints was fantastic and created brilliant molds; however, the amount of time it took to create and replicate 3D prints, along with the extremely high failure rate of the machines they were using, meant it could not be commercially viable.
So the duo went back to the drawing board, considering vacuum-formed head/face molds. In this process, an object is first etched; then, a thin plastic lining is vacuum-sealed around it. The mold takes the shape of the original carved object, and chocolate is poured into the mold. It hardens into a 3D rendering in sweet confection form. That worked reasonably well, but they still weren't satisfied.
The candy team then eyed an unlikely device: a CNC machine, typically used with materials like wood and metal. They wondered what it could do with chocolate since chocolate, like wood, is soft enough to carve but hard enough to retain its shape, if handled correctly. One of the key things they looked at when they began was drill speed. If the CNC rotated the bit too quickly, it would melt the chocolate. In their testing phase, lots of things ended up covered in chocolate!
When milling with a CNC machine, a precision drill is directed by a computer to move in one of three directions (up, down, and side to side), and these movements carve into a stationary object — in this case, a piece of chocolate. In theory, the team could use any CNC mill for chocolate creations, but the Candy Mechanics process was optimized for chocolate by using certain tool types and carefully selected cutting profiles. Tests upon tests led to these just-right settings, and the company dubbed its customized machine the Candy Carve.
Candy Mechanics selected a CNC mill as the best method for mass production as it can produce a similar level of detail to a 3D print in a fraction of the time and is highly reliable. For them, sacrificing a small amount of detail created a scalable process to bring completely customized products to the world. While sorting out the best machine for their manufacturing needs, they had to come up with a computerized system to convert customers' faces and designs into unique pieces. They started experimenting with a variety of off-the-shelf software, but the way that they were combining them made their process unique. As a result, they added custom software, leveraging the Forge API platform and Autodesk ReMake, which allows customers to upload short videos from their smartphones to the Candy Carve. The machine's software creates a carve-worthy 3D image of the customer's face from the video.
This made Lolpops the world's first customizable consumable product created directly from a smartphone. The bespoke nature of its products helps Candy Mechanics stand above other tech-forward candy creations, like screen-printed chocolate candies or stamped truffles. Since launching a small and highly successful trial for Lolpops in the popular British department store, Selfridges, in 2015, Candy Mechanics has seen significant growth.
The company introduced a second product, Candy Cards, last year. Customers use an online app to create one-of-a-kind designs. The Candy Carve machine etches the design, and the unique and delicious piece of art is shipped to a lucky recipient. Candy Mechanics is also adding dark chocolate options to its lineup, and if customers want a little more pizzazz in their Lolpops, their 3D faces can be dusted in sparkly, edible gold.
Thanks to Forge Marketing Manager, Nelle Sacknoff for the text about Candy Mechanics. Thanks to Digital Marketing Manager, Caroline Ash, from Candy Mechanics for the images.
"We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them."
— Steve Jobs, 2001.
When it comes to Candy Mechanics, Steve Jobs would not have been kidding.
Chocolate is alive in the lab.