Smart Cups – “The World’s First Printed Beverage”

“A waterless beverage” sounds not only futuristic but also impossible. However, this is not the case for the innovative US company Smart Cups that has developed a drink with printed ingredients in the cup. This sustainability-driven technology could be a path to the future of beverages and much more.

Who needs a 10-pack of 9-ounce bottled or canned beverages, when they could have a lightweight, flexible pouch with the same amount of product? In 2017, Smart Cups, founded by Chris Kanik, launched “The World’s First Printed Beverage” to the global market, a line of energy drinks printed with 3D polycapsules in Tropical Recess, Nerdy Lemon-T, Pucker Up Brain Boost and Magna Cum Latte flavours. To activate the drink, consumers have to add water to the biodegradable cup. Then its printed flavours on the surface quickly turn into a calorie and sugar-free energy drink free of calories and sugar, with no stirring required. Let’s have a look at this innovation and its future prospects.

A Solution to the Problems of our Time

Supposedly, the idea for 3D polycapsule printed beverages came up when Chris Kanik waited too long for a drink in a restaurant. Thus the need for instant drinks led to the idea for printed beverages. In cooperation with Mission Viejo and The Additive Advantage of North Reading, Smart Cups developed the 3D polycapsule printing delivery system technology and the transformation of an empty container into an instant energy drink. But it’s not only the rapid availability that makes Smart Cups a new kind of drinks, the printed beverages also significantly reduce the carbon footprint in comparison to traditional bottles:

“To put that into perspective, a truck that would ordinarily carry 96,000 12 oz cans of soda, can instead carry 1.2 million Smart Cups thanks to the stackable, waterless design. This translates to a reduction of shipping weight and in turn reduction of CO2 emissions”,

Smart Cups says. Besides, the cups are made of eco-friendly bioplastic.

Using a Three-Dimensional Print But No 3D Printing

The cups are equipped with printed microcapsules, containing active ingredients and flavourings that are activated by adding water. But how is this possible at all? The small particles or so-called microcapsules are solid, liquid or gaseous substances inside a polymer shell that protect the active ingredients in the core. Through a specific stimulus like added water or any other liquid, they are releasing their contents. The Additive Advantage explains:

“Whereas microcapsules protect the actives, The Additive Advantage’s patented Integrated Delivery Platform (IDP) technology both protects the microcapsules as well as affixes them to substrates through a proprietary printing process.”

This is ensured by a plant-based and amphiphilic polymer binder that is both repellent and absorbent to moisture. 

The printed beverages at the bottom of each cup are called the Katalyxt™. In contact with water, the Katalyxt™ creates effervescent bubbles that self-stir the beverage. In an interview with 3Dnatives, founder Chris Kanik explained that technically, Smart Cups don’t even use 3D printing, but nothing like this has ever existed before, so it’s referred to as 3D printing. Even if they use a three-dimensional print, it’s actually an unique micro-encapsulation and they don’t layer to create a solid. 

A Revolution in the Printing and Beverage Industry?

In November 2020, Smart Cups introduced a caffeine-free beverage variety invented specifically for kids and families. For the future, Smart Cups intends to  increase the capacity and automation of their production with a new printing method. Both the cup bases and sides can be printed with the flavours that enhance more complex formulas and increase shelf life. Smart Cups will also expand their portfolio with new flavours and cup sizes. But that’s not all, they are also working on hygiene products, probiotics and even printing alcohol. In partnership with UCLA’s Institute of Environment and Sustainability, they have launched a study that shows Smart Cups can carry more than 600 per cent beverage volume compared to aluminium cans. This could revolutionise the beverage and consumer goods industries to reduce transportation gas emissions and reach the net-zero emissions status: a new way for manufacturing, packaging and transportation. 

Did you know printed beverages already? What do you think of this innovation? 

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