The US Army could one day have its own very own version of the Star Trek replicator. Researchers at the Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center in Massachusetts are currently investigating ways that 3D printers could be used to create meals and rations for soldiers. "It could reduce costs because it could eventually be used to print food on demand," food technologist Mary Scerra tells Army Technology Magazine. "For example, you would like a sandwich, where I would like ravioli. You would print what you want and eliminate wasted food."
"You would print what you want and eliminate wasted food."
3D printing food isn't a new concept, as researchers have also been working on techniques to help feed astronauts, but it has some unique benefits that could aid soldiers in the field. For one thing, meals could be tailor made for individuals, ensuring that they receive the specific nutrients they need. Researchers are also currently looking at ways 3D printing could be used to increase the shelf life of rations, which currently have a minimum lifespan of three years.
Farther out into the future, a soldier armed with a 3D printer could even make their own food out in the field from foraged ingredients. Unfortunately, there's currently no timeline for when 3D printing could actually be used by soldiers. If it ever does make its way into the field, the process will definitely make military meals more convenient, but it likely won't do much to make rations more palatable — researchers describe the food as a "nutrient-dense, shelf-stable product." At least there's always 3D-printed candy.