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Lessons in 3D printing: How to eat your own face

Summer’s a funny time of year. There’s something about it that just makes the food taste better, and your day a little less ordinary.

And Hellmann's believes there are small and simple ways to add even more richness to summer eating. Helping everyone enjoy al-fresco dining more often, wherever, whenever and with whomever.

Last summer, Ogilvy London’s Hellmann’s Team created Summer Hacks – an idea platform for digital content, built around fun and simple hacks for outdoor eating.

Hacking is in the DNA of Hellmann’s as both a product and a behaviour. And the campaign was designed to entertain and inspire people to use Hellmann’s – helping make outdoor eating even richer.

As well as building a DJ-powered BBQ, hundreds of solar-powered lantern jars and some tiny single-burger BBQs, I worked with the Hellmann’s team to create Burger Selfies – a concept inspired by three trends: selfies, 3D printing and gourmet food trucks.

We started with a 3D printer kit as a base platform. Any smugness for having completed the '22-hour printer assembly' in eight hours was quickly diffused upon realising that no paste extruder solutions existed that were fit for purpose. I needed to move mayo through a metre of tubing, how hard could it be?

Doing as any self-respecting hardware hacker would do, I built my own mayo’struder. It took three prototypes and 40 hours of 3D printing before I settled on a heavily geared system which had enough force to crush an apple...or a hand.

For anyone astounded by 3D printing – know one thing: It. Is. Incredibly. Slow. And it fails... a lot.

Had we run this campaign just six months later, we could have used an off-the-shelf 3D printer specifically designed for printing food pastes. Which just goes to show the speed of innovation in the 3D printing sector.

With the mayo'struder now mostly functional, the next issue was that of fluid dynamics. Even with a high-pressure pump, the mayo wasn’t moving consistently though the tubing. This was the 3D printer equivalent of trying to suck a McDonald’s milk shake through a Capri-Sun straw.

I started scientifically calculating a fluid dynamics model for the optimum tube diameter based on the viscosity of a non-Newtonian fluid moving under pressure. Turns out I didn’t know how to do that. So I took an educated guess and ordered some fat teflon tubing from eBay. Which, thankfully, worked.

The final challenge was how to turn a human face into a mayo face. Interestingly, creating burger selfies actually requires some profound thinking: what are the things that make you, you?

Testing revealed that details like stubble and eyelashes don’t translate well on the undulating beefy canvas of a burger. Stripping out the detail was essential.

Mayonnaise isn’t the most expressive medium so to prevent all the faces looking too similar we had to create caricatures of each face. Enhancing mouths, jaw-lines, and hair created far more life-like faces.

Finally, we partnered with BBQ Labs – a food truck that specialises in creative and delicious burgers – to bring the Burger Selfies to the public. And the response was one of sheer amazement.

3D printing is still one of those buzzwords that get thrown around ad shops, like ‘drones’, ‘NFC’, ‘iBeacons’ and ‘#innovation’, to name just a few. But many fall into the trap of discovering a great technology and then trying to find something interesting to do with it.

Hellmann’s hacks was successful not because of the tech, but because it was based on a strong insight around existing user behaviour.

With pickup by six local markets and a global reach of 1.8m, the hacks were featured in outlets like The Huffington post while still sparking conversations on 3D printing and food blogs respectively.

And before we knew it, everyone was desperate to eat their own face.

Navid Gornall is a creative technologist at Ogilvy working across Unilever brands. Known internally as the guy who keeps setting his desk on fire, he spends his time conceptualising, building and prototyping new ideas, as well discovering and testing new software platforms and hardware solutions. His job is to know something about everything and be able to explain it to both techies and non-techies alike. Navid will be speaking at Digital Shoreditch festival on Monday 11 May,12:00, Shoreditch Town Hall about ‘How To Eat Your Own Face’ the challenges with building the world’s first mayonnaise printer.

Follow @ogilvyUK for more insights and images of Navid follow @navidgornall and #burgerselfies.

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