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"The Rosetta Stone of the 3D Chocolate Printing world."

Jul 7, 2020

We received an interesting email from a student :

"Dear Choc Edge Design Team. I'm writing a thesis about overcoming technical challenges, and the will of creative types and how they never give up no matter what. Can you tell me a story about that related to your 3D chocolate printing work, please?"

We love telling stories ! How about this one :

"The Rosetta Stone of the 3D Chocolate Printing world."

How is your history?

We've all heard of the Rosetta Stone, most likely from documentaries on the history channel, but do you actually know what it is and why it is so significant to linguists and historians?

Well, put simply (and I mean VERY simply), the Rosetta Stone is a fragment of rock that was discovered in the Egyptian port city of Rosetta/Rashia in 1799. The stone itself formed part of a larger tablet of which nothing was found to have survived. The stone is inscribed with three versions of a decree, albeit incomplete, that was issued in Egypt in 196 BC. The decree has only minor differences between the three versions, two of which are written in ancient Egyptian, and the third in Ancient Greek. Since many scholars of the era were familiar with Ancient Greek, but understood little to nothing of the Egyptian variants, the side-by-side comparable texts finally provided the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs and therefore much of the ancient culture.

Now the history lesson is over, you may be asking what this has to do with 3D chocolate printing.

The answer is a very similar discovery was made by two designers who found their experiments provided the key to the perfect extrusion parameters for chocolate that Choc Edge now uses as standard - It is the accuracy of these parameters that makes 3D printing in liquid chocolate possible.

Some years ago now, during a period of R&D over what seemed like endless summer months, our Creative Designer, Anthony, who has a background in illustration, became fixated on the idea of using the Choc Creator to produce 2D single-line (aka contour) chocolate drawings of some of his old hand-drawn artwork.

Up until that point, any 2D chocolate prints were actually quasi-2D, as the ChocPrint program doesn't have parameters for printing 2D single-line (aka contour) drawings - The program was designed for 3D printing with the use of STL models. STL is a not a “line-based” format but rather a “boundary-based” format for solid objects. The 3D printing process involves creating a boundary (aka perimeter) of an object which is then filled with a structure of lines to create internal support. The trick was to use the boundaries of an STL to cleverly create the effect of a drawing, but the result would never be a true single-line drawing, and the print would inevitably appear to have double-lines in places due to having both an inside path (inner boundary) and outside path (outer boundary). The results were referred to in-house as 2D boundary-based quasi-drawings.

This unnatural and stifling way of illustrating in chocolate proved to be of frustration to Anthony, not only in terms of creativity, but also knowing that if he could achieve the results he desired, it would pave the way to
the development of a 2D drawing app that would enable the user to draw and print 2D artwork, doodles and text in single lines, resulting in a true 1:1 representation, with an understandable tolerance for the medium of liquid chocolate.

At the very same time, Mark, the Digital Designer, whose goal since day one was to produce accurate 3D models in chocolate, was almost at the end of his tether, having struggled to validate any of the 3D models he had been working on for months. Although he is certainly credited as the first person to print a variey of 3D objects in chocolate, the results weren't always free from flaws, and the all-important repeatability factor was often missing, which both designers knew would need to be remedied in order to commercially release the technology - You can't retail a 3D chocolate printer that MIGHT be able to print in 3D, and whatever tiny change Mark kept making to the parameters seemed to make little difference, and you could often here him mutter the words, "Damn, I'm so close!", under his breath.

The ChocALM protoype (aka Choc Creator Version Zero) had been a huge machine with a hose as an extruder, providing mixed results that were promising as a protoype and acceptable as a university experiment, but nowhere near the standard needed for a commerical release of the technology. The weight of perfecting both the 2D and 3D printing processes was on Mark and Anthony's shoulders.

During the much needed but far too few coffee breaks, the design team would chat about the "mystery" of parameters for chocolate, and how there must be a clue, a key, a "Rosetta Stone" somewhere in the process or coding they were using. But what, and where would it be found ? As both designers are perfectionists, they vowed to keep working day and night until they both achieved what they felt was necessary for the Choc Creator to be a success.

One morning, after printing a 2D portrait which featured a number of obvious flaws, with areas of poor extrusion in some places, and pools of over-extruded chocolate in others, Anthony presented his results to the team, and although the prints were like nothing anyone had ever seen before, and actually quite an astounding achievement, he pointed out the flaws and the need to perfect the process, and admitted he was open to ideas about how to move forward.

It was the founder of Choc Edge, Dr Liang, who suggested moving backwards, not fowards, and starting again from scratch, stating that whether you are aiming to print a detailed floral pattern, a portrait, or a simple square, they are all illustrations, with the same fixed line thickness, so it would pay to just focus solely on a square and print it a hundred, five hundred or a thousand times until you get the perfect result. This made sense to Anthony, having by now been clouded by all the complex illustrations he'd been trying to print - You certainly couldn't print a perfect drawing, pattern or portrait if a perfect square wasn't possible.

It was at this point that Anthony spent weeks printing hundreds of tiny squares in chocolate, noting all the changes in the code and parameters he was making, leaving little chocolate sqaures all over the studio for people to nibble while working away. Mark, on the other hand, was often leaving pieces of his hair here and there after tearing it out, as he had almost perfected the parameters for 3D models but something wasn't quite right, and from his results it was clear that just one final tweak was needed to print 3D models flawlessly every time with a repeatability needed to market the technology.

After what seemed like a lifetime of printing squares, Anthony had finally managed to print fifty indentical perfect squares in succession, with a uniform extrusion, in such sharp liness it was as if you were looking at
lines drawn by a thin brown magic marker as opposed to chocolate, and upon presenting his results to the team, he also unveiled a set of drawings he had printed using the exact same parameters. Everyone's jaw dropped, as it was clear that the parameters and process had finally been validated, and that this ability to print 2D renderings in chocolate would be something every Choc Creator user would want to do.

Anthony was from thereon charged with the task of producing as much high-quality, complex 2D artwork as possible in order to demonstrate the Choc Creator's prowess and new-found capability, and excited by the success of Anthony's work, Mark asked for his files to analyse and see exactly what parameters were being used, and why they were providing the desired results that the current set of 3D parameters couldn't.

An opportunity to move the business to a new location sat Mark and Anthony opposite each other, which allowed them to work closely as Mark began the arduos task of comparing every single line of code and parameter between Anthony's 2D work and his own 3D work. Any visitors to the new studio would glance over Mark's shoulder and jokingly ask if he was trying to read 'The Matrix', as that's exactly what it looked like he was trying to do.

Finally, after reading what was likely more code in a month than books he'd read in his lifetime, Mark spotted something that was only very slightly different between the two designers efforts, so minor it was almost unnoticeable, but it was the only thing Mark had left to try. The parameters were aligned accordingly, a G-code was generated, and Mark pushed the start button on the Choc Creator.... and the rest, as they say, is history. But is it ancient Egyptian history ? - It certainly parallels the discoveries made owing to the "Rosetta Stone". Through his discovery, Anthony was able to provide Mark with "Ancient Greek" which they had both come to understand, and Mark was able to use this to translate his "Egyptian Hieroglyphs". It is a testament to Mark that 3D chocolate printing is not only possible, but reliable, repeatable, and the highest quality it can be.

We therefore refer to this period of R&D as the "Rosetta Stone", as Anthony's desire to print his 2D illustrations resulted in Mark discovering the final key needed to print amazing 3D objects in chocolate.

There are many morals to this story; "Never give up", "Seek and you will find", "Two heads are better than one", and we also like to think this story demonstrates how important it is to work as a team, and to admit to your colleagues that you need help at times, no matter how deep your knowledge runs. Nobody's perfect - that's impossible - but it certainly IS possible to have the perfect team.


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