The PancakeBot is here

The Flapjack Awakens

Back in May 2014, while at the Bay Area Maker Faire, I came across the Pancakebot, a machine that was ‘printing’ pancakes:

Maker Faire Bay Area 2014

Since then, the PancakeBot (and it’s creator, Miguel Valenzuela) has been to the White House and ran a successfully funded Kickstarter campaign.

I backed the Kickstarter (back when the Canadian dollar was close to parity with the US$ so it was a great deal for $149) because I thought this was a very unique ‘3d printer’ – which is a debatable term but after talking with Miguel, we agreed the PancakeBot makes a physical object that has more than 2 dimensions so I’m fine with saying it’s 3d printing. It also uses a lot of the same technology (or at least did during the prototype stage) and even uses GCode to draw the pancakes – the same ‘code’ used by every 3D printer.

It’s also a real inexpensive food printer…and not limited to pancake batter. Just about any kind of ‘liquid’ can be used with the PancakeBot which will be fun to experiment with.

My first impression was that the box it came in was HUGE! It wouldn’t fit in the trunk of my car without putting the back seats down.

I also upgraded to the extra bottles and rack:

PancakeBot

You can prepare a bunch of batter and store them in the rack and even use food colouring for different coloured batter for multi-colour pancakes. It’s not needed but it’s a nice to have since the bottles don’t stand up on their own.

Ready to pancake!

To print on the PancakeBot, you need to use their desktop software to create an image to use.

PancakeBot Software

It’s a pretty easy to use drawing program that let’s you draw anything you want or you can import an image to trace it using the pen tool. There is also a fill tool. There are 4 different shades to draw with that relate to the darkness you want the pancake to be – the darker shades will be printed first so they have more time on the grill before the lighter shades.

You then put the output of that software onto a SD card and put that into the Bot. There is a small display on the Bot that lets you navigate the SD card to find the image you want to print. This is very similar to most 3D printers.

Interesting local connection: my friend, Dan Royer of Marginallyclever.com provided some of the code that is used to control the pancake printing process. This was in part to Dan and Miguel’s booth proximity at a Maker Faire in San Francisco previously. Makers helping Makers!

PancakeBot

The controls are pretty simple – power, start, up and down along with a pressure dial for the batter extruder which uses an air pump to force the batter out of the bottle that rides along the gantry system above the griddle which has it’s own, separate power dial (it’s just a regular griddle that fits inside the gantry system).

Batter was something that I had to prepare ahead of using the bot. I picked up some Bisquick mix and used a blender to ensure it was well mixed. I learned the hard way that you shouldn’t put the batter directly into the batter tubes and seal them as the batter tends to foam up a little and it needs to settle a little before putting the lids on.

I decided to try printing my Cactus Studios logo and quickly traced it’s outline. Aside from having batter that was a little too runny, it turned out quite well.

PancakeBot

A video posted by John Biehler (@johnbiehler) on

Here’s a real time video of my second attempt at printing it (after tweaking the design a little with gradient and infill):

Once I got the batter and settings dialed in, I was getting very good results. Unfortunately, I need a better spatula for flipping as I seemed to always ruin a good print when I flip them.

I then got more ambitious and tried to print a stormtrooper that someone had designed in the PancakeBot community forum. It was a much longer print (10 minutes) with multiple shades. I had the griddle a little too hot so it was a little too cooked by the end (and had started to contract during the second pass). I also managed to mess up the flipping at the end (again, wrong spatula choice). Still very recognizable though and fun to watch sped up:

It’s a pretty fun machine and I’m looking forward to showing it off (especially to kids) as I get better at designing and batter making. They just started shipping the Kickstarter rewards but have opened up the pre-orders if you want to buy your own. They should be available soon.

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