Kauai News

Something Sweet: UH Engineering Students Make Decorative Molds For Mānoa Chocolate Shop

Posted May 8, 2022, 9:38 AM HST

Photos courtesy of University of Hawaiʻi

It’s Mother’s Day. You might have gotten Mom her favorite box of chocolates to go along with those flowers. But have you ever wondered how much engineering goes into each individual truffle or chocolate nugget?

Just ask one of the 10 upper-level mechanical engineering students in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Department of Mechanical Engineering who recently learned first-hand what it takes to get the perfect piece of chocolate to surprise Mom.

Under the guidance of assistant professor Tyler Ray, students in the new advanced additive manufacturing course spent the spring semester developing a system based upon three-dimensional printing to produce custom chocolate molds for Choco leʻa, a chocolate shop in Mānoa valley.

“The collaboration with Choco leʻa is an opportunity to both bridge classroom concepts with real-world design challenges and simultaneously give back to the community,” Ray said in a press release. “In addition, students are taught how to approach engineering in a consulting setting and gain hands-on experience in product development.”

According to senior mechanical engineering major Kendall Lorenzo, custom chocolate molds ordered commercially cost thousands of dollars, making them out of reach for many small businesses. Ray and the students provided the customized molds to the Mānoa chocolate shop free of charge.

“Honestly, it feels really good; it feels amazing,” Lorenzo said in the press release. “Never would I have thought that I would be using my skills to benefit the community. But that’s the heartwarming part of this entire project. I’m hoping that I can use the skills that we learn at UH to benefit more business, more companies and help them solve the problems that they have.”

Ray connected with Choco leʻa owner and UH-Mānoa alumna Erin Kanno Uehara. Choco leʻa boasts a team full of UH graduates, including grads from UH-Mānoa and Kapiʻolani Community College’s culinary arts program. Uehara presented Ray with the challenge that her business has of finding chocolate molds at a low cost and Ray put the challenge to his students to tackle.

The students created designs in consultation with Choco leʻa, then used food safe materials, a 3-D printer in Ray’s lab and fabrication equipment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s new student ProtoLab to create the molds. The students also toured the chocolate shop late last month, discovering first-hand how their molds were being used.

“At Choco leʻa, we use chocolates as a way to connect with others and it was an honor to be able to do it right here in our own community,” Uehara said in the press release. “A conversation with a chocolate friend led to an opportunity where together we could really ‘bring peace to our world, one chocolate at a time.’ On behalf of my entire team, we are so grateful to have shared this collaborative experience to grow together. I hope more businesses and schools will partner up because we can all learn a lot from each other! Mahalo professor Ray and the mechanical engineering students for your exceptional contribution!”

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