What Do a Jello Shot Machine and 3D Printing Have in Common?
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on August 30, 2016 |
When LMFAO and Lil Jon teamed up for the party anthem “Shots,” I don’t think they could have imagined that, one day in the near future, their song would echo over a robot dispensing automatically produced jello shots to a bar full of thirsty customers. That, however, is exactly what Food and Beverage Innovations intends with Jevo, the first fully automated gelatin shot maker. 
The Jevo mixes, chills and dispenses 20 gelatin shots available in eight flavors at launch. (Image courtesy of Food and Beverage Innovations.)
The Jevo mixes, chills and dispenses 20 gelatin shots available in eight flavors at launch. (Image courtesy of Food and Beverage Innovations.)

Jevo, as with just about any product made in the 21st century, was partially prototyped with 3D printing. And, as is increasingly taking place in the 21st century, the fully automated gelatin shot producer will also feature 3D-printed components in preliminary batches of the end product. 

When approaching the technology for its operations, Food and Beverage Innovations had a dilemma with regards to industrial 3D printers: they’re too expensive. The dominant brand of professional fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printers uses proprietary materials that can make the technology inaccessible to small- to medium-sized firms wishing to bring AM in-house.

Fortunately for the firm, however, a new generation of industrial-grade FFF 3D printers is starting to emerge that offers the quality expected from professional systems but without the cost associated with the machines and the materials. In the case of Food and Beverage Innovations, the printer of choice was manufactured by 3ntr in Italy and brought to North America by Plural Additive Manufacturing in Lake Oswego, Oreg. 

3D Printing. A New Way to Get the Party Started?

Had Jevo been around in the ‘90s, Stella would have had an entirely new way to get her groove back. The idea for this fully automated gelatin shot maker is so simple that you wish you’d thought of it. According to Food and Beverage Innovations, that’s what customers are saying. The technology behind it? Not so much.

Gelatin shots made by Jevo. Flavors from front to back: strawberry lemonade, birthday cake, and watermelon that tastes like a Jolly Rancher candy, but with a party twist.
Gelatin shots made by Jevo. Flavors from front to back: strawberry lemonade, birthday cake, and watermelon that tastes like a Jolly Rancher candy, but with a party twist.

Developed over the course of the past three years by entrepreneur Jeff Jetton and his team in Portland, Oreg., Jevo uses some pretty nifty technology to accomplish something as simple as serving batches of alcohol-infused jello shots. On the surface, a bartender at a Señor Frog’s, Sharky’s or Las Vegas casino simply pops in a K-Cup-style canister of gelatin mix on one side of the machine and pours in spirit into the other side. Minutes later, Jevo dispenses 20 ready-to-eat jello shots made from one of  nine different flavor varieties that Food and Beverage is currently cooking up. 

On the inside, however, Jevo is not only precision pouring the spirit and mixing it with the gelatin powder; it’s also adding steaming hot water to the mix, shaking it rapidly and then quickly cooling the gelatin before squirting it into the 20 shot glasses, which were designed by Food and Beverage’s Vice President of Operations and Product Development, Stan Levitsky.

The carefully designed Jevo shot glass.
The carefully designed Jevo shot glass.

The process looks something like this: the bartender takes an order for watermelon, strawberry lemonade or birthday cake jello shots, and heads to the machine where he or she pops in the corresponding Jevo container. On the other side, the bartender pours in their spirit of choice. Jevo then punctures the tin foil seal on the gelatin container with a specialty spike that doubles as a spout for sending very hot water into the jello. 

The container is agitated similarly to a washing machine until the gelatin powder mixes fully with the water before it is sucked out and dumped into a mixing tank, at which point alcohol is introduced and the ingredients are mixed again. Then, the mixture is sent in front of a chiller block that relies on the same thermoelectric liquid cooling found in high-end gaming PCs. Finally, 30 fluid ounces of alcohol-spiked gelatin is dispensed across 20 shots, designed in house by Levitsky and his team. What used to take hours of mixing and cooling now takes 10 minutes from the minute the server hits “go.” 

To develop a product that previously never existed naturally requires design iteration. And what technology is the king of iterative designing? You guessed it: 3D printing. To test out such components as the hot water tank, Food and Beverage first relied on polymer jetting technology. Levitsky said that the start-up soon found out that even the high-temperature photopolymers used in those systems couldn’t stand up to the heat of boiling water. “It was basically a thousand-dollar tank that we wasted in an hour. It split within an hour of use,” he said.

On top of that, the inks for such a system are not food compatible, so, if the start-up even wanted to use 3D-printed parts in a batch of Jevo machines, it would have to look elsewhere. That’s when Levitsky turned to local 3D printing partner Plural AM.

Levitsky explained, “Most of the printing technologies out there have resins and inks that are incompatible with food and beverage. All of a sudden, you’re trying to develop a product really quickly and what do you do? Even with [a polymer jetting machine], the inks are not compatible, and there’s no solution right now. They’re working on it because there are a lot of people in the food and beverage space. The technology might be good for modeling a cabinet or a unique handheld communication device, but when it comes to food and beverage, you can’t have food touch it. Otherwise, the resin leeches in and you get poisoned. Some of Plural AM’s materials are food-grade compatible, which was pretty exciting for us.” 

Based just five minutes away from Food and Beverage’s offices, Plural AM supplies 3D printers manufactured by 3ntr. So far, these include the A2 and A4 FFF 3D printers, which offer robust build volumes, the ability to print with industrial-grade thermoplastics and incredibly accurate parts. And, because the 3ntr systems are not locked into a single material manufacturer, it’s possible to 3D print with food-safe thermoplastics. Plural AM began aiding Food and Beverage with the fabrication of various components as the start-up iterated designs.

“We actually iterated this part four times. We have a switch in there and the clearances are incredibly tight, so we had to continually make changes and have them print and have them print and have them print. Now it works perfectly,” Levitsky said. 

Market research being performed with the main target demographic of Jevo: 3D printing enthusiasts.
Market research being performed with the main target demographic of Jevo: 3D printing enthusiasts.
Finally satisfied with the way the parts integrated with the Jevo system, Food and Beverage has now moved into production. The company is currently producing eight systems to deliver to beta customers, who will provide feedback on the software and overall user experience of the Jevo machine. By the end of the year, Levitsky said that the firm intends to manufacture a few hundred machines before unleashing over 5,000 on the world in 2017.

While some of the 3D-printed parts will be injection molded when Food and Beverage moves to mass manufacturing, Levitsky explained that, for the first few thousand production units, the start-up will actually use some 3D-printed components as end parts. If so, this will likely entail the purchase of a massive A2 system for 3D printing the parts at the company’s contract manufacturer. It will also mean that your very first jello shot made by a robot will also have been made with 3D printing. 

Enter the 3ntr 3D Printers

In speaking with Plural AM Co-founders Tom McKasson and Ed Israel, I learned that of critical importance to companies like Food and Beverage are the manufacturing tolerances required to ensure that a part meets specification. Therefore, it’s important that a 3D printer fabricate components with a high degree of accuracy. In many ways, this is the characteristic that separates professional FFF machines from the hobbyist variety.

The A2 and A4 3D printers from 3ntr at Plural AM headquarters.
The A2 and A4 3D printers from 3ntr at Plural AM headquarters.
McKasson and Israel referred to the chief designer of the 3ntr systems, Davide Ardizzoia, as a “genius,” in that he had spent countless hours in crafting the A2 and A4 systems to print accurately and with repeatability. The features of the printers that ensure this performance include a water cooled head that enable the three nozzles on the 3ntr machines to maintain a very steady printing temperature.
The A4 3D printing parts for a customer.
The A4 3D printing parts for a customer.

Additionally, McKasson pointed out that Ardizzoia had custom designed the nozzles for the printers. Unlike the straight-shot holes seen in most brass 3D printer nozzles, Ardizzoia labored over the interior geometry of the nozzle in order to obtain the best flow of the material.

The accuracy of the printer is further enhanced through the use of the KISSlicer slicing software, which the Plural AM team believe to be the best slicing tool on the market, partially due to the fact that its chief programmer, Jonathan Drummer, is a mechanical engineer by trade, giving him a keen insight into the operations of a 3D printer’s movements.

The A4 3D printing parts for a customer.
The A4 3D printing parts for a customer.

When all of this is combined with the powder-coated steel casing that ensures a stable thermal environment, the A2 and A4 3D printers are capable of producing parts accurate within two to three thousandths of an inch.

“When you go to buy a drill, you don’t really care about the drill. What you really care about is the hole that it’s going to make,” McKasson explained. In the view of Plural AM, the exclusive representatives of 3ntr in North America, the best 3D printer for producing the parts that one might need to make are those 3D printed by 3ntr technology.

Plural AM has sponsored ENGINEERING.com to write this article. It has provided no editorial input. All opinions are mine. 

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