Ithaca Mixes It Up with Printed Pancakes

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Ithaca Mixes It Up with Printed Pancakes

Kickstarter acquisition a boon to SPS chapter’s 3D-printing project


 SPS Staff

Ithaca College

Ithaca College uses its Pancakebot to print SPS-inspired flapjacks. Photo courtesy of Bodhi Rogers.

When Bodhi Rogers and his crew put on a show with their 3D printers, people always admire the objects on display. Students showcase keychains and magnets – even a prosthetic hand.

But what really draws a crowd is a device Rogers recently purchased from Kickstarter: a PancakeBot.

“When I saw it, I knew I had to have it,” says Rogers, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy and advisor for the SPS chapter at Ithaca College in New York.

The contraption works a lot like a regular 3D printer, which builds things by drawing thin layers of plastic. But instead of sketching in plastic, the PancakeBot uses batter.

Watching it in action is like watching a robot with a cake icer. A nozzle moves slowly back and forth, squeezing a stream of liquid flapjack onto a griddle. Parts of the design sketched first have more time to cook and turn out darker in the end, giving the final product different shades of brown.

For Rogers, the machine isn’t just a fun prop; it’s also a platform for education.

His chapter recently won a SPS Chapter Research Award to build a new 3D printer. Working with Ithaca College’s engineering club, they plan to use their current trio of 3D printers to craft the parts for the new printer – buying only motors and electrical parts that can’t be made in the lab. They call the project “Creating the Creator.”

That promises to be a complicated task. Pancakes, it turns out, are simpler.

For one thing, the PancakeBot works only with two-dimensional designs. Writing the instructions to create those designs, stored in digital files, is easier than it would be for 3D designs, such as the parts for the new printer. Students can thus hone their skills.

The PancakeBot has also tested the chapter’s mechanical aptitude. When a tube popped off its vacuum chamber, batter flooded the interior workings of the machine. Taking apart and reassembling the PancakeBot to clean it proved to be a learning experience.

Pedagogical value aside, there’s no denying that the new acquisition has boosted the popularity of this particular workshop in the building.

“You can smell it cooking all the way down the hall,” says Rogers. “When we fire it up, there’s a line out the door for pancakes.”

It has also opened the door to a sweet new collaboration with the environmental sciences program at Ithaca College, which makes and sells maple syrup. //

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