Levi Lalla ’05’s dream to create a 3D chocolate printer began while he was an undergrad. “I wanted to use chocolate as a canvas, as opposed to just a tasty snack,” he says.
Now, Lalla has an outlet for chocolate artisans: his nascent company, piq Chocolates. Customers submit their design ideas, and Lalla and his co-founder Donovan Crowley will bring their clients’ candy concepts to life. The piq Chocolates tool shed includes a 3D chocolate printer that Lalla built a year ago, 3D printers to create silicone molds for finer details, and laser cutters for slicing pieces.
As piq Chocolates expands, Lalla hopes to add an in-browser design tool to the website, as well as increase the speed of chocolate production. “We can only fill one or two orders a week because we don’t have access to all the equipment we need,” says Lalla. “A lot of chocolate machinery is really expensive—more expensive than the rapid prototyping equipment we’re using. It’s pretty funny that rapidly melting chocolate to get it into the right state is more expensive than a 3D printer!”
Lalla must consider chocolate textures when evaluating submitted designs and choosing tools. “Certain chocolates flow better,” explains Lalla. “A milk chocolate, with higher cocoa butter ratios, will flow better. Thicker chocolates, the darker chocolates with less cocoa butter, are harder to push through small openings, so you end up with larger details.”
Fittingly, Lalla chose to use white chocolate to do the detail work on our custom-made Slice of MIT chocolate, above.