My Brilliant Career
Turning intangible ideas into sweet 3-D delights
What is 3-D chocolate printing?
It is like "normal" 3-D printing, but we use chocolate. We have specialised in chocolate decorations for cakes.
What exactly do you do at work?
I design and build 3-D printers. It started with a modified plotter that built models with superglue. Icing-sugar models followed, then chocolate. This was followed by plastic models, cement, icing sugar again, and then mealiepap! The latest is ceramics.
You were a Formula One engineer first. Why 3-D chocolate printing?
The 3-D printer that works with superglue was developed while I was an aerodynamicist at Brabham Formula One, and was used to build model parts to test in the wind tunnel. Brabham folded, and I was forced to return home. Fast-forward to today, and the superglue was substituted with icing sugar, and then chocolate.
How do you prevent your chocolate creations from melting?
There is no special trick; we just have to take extra care to keep our structures in cool areas.
Elaborate deliveries are always made in the morning, not in the heat of the day. It is not recommended that you stop to do some shopping on the way. We also keep the airconditioning on in the car.
What are some of the most innovative pieces you have worked on?
A real working 3-D printed lawnmower, printed in plastic.
Then, from 1994 to 1998, we designed chocolate decorations for desserts served to first, business and economy classes on SAA. We also designed the three-legged potjie pots for Nelson Mandela's and Jacob Zuma's inaugurations.
What do you wish you had known before you started your business?
How difficult it is to sell new ideas to people who are stuck in their ways.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Always an engineer. Opening and tinkering with engines, washing machines and heaters, and building things was my passion from childhood.
What do you enjoy most about the work you do?
I can lie in bed on a Saturday morning, designing a new thing on a CAD (computer-aided design) program on my laptop. When it's done I walk to my garage, plug my laptop into my big 3-D printer, and start printing those designs. Later I can hold the thing that was just in my mind that morning. That is really creative, and it drives me.
What part of your job would you prefer not to do?
Marketing and sales. I am not good at it.
And working with people. I can manipulate a piece of metal until it is the shape that I want, but you cannot do that with people.
What is the best career advice you have ever received?
If you work for a boss, you must respect the work he and his team have done. You must want to learn from that person. If that is not the case, move on.
What would people find most surprising about the work you do?
There is nothing magic in a 3-D printer. It is just putting together some existing technologies.