Ithaca College Flips Over PancakeBot

By Dan Verderosa, March 8, 2016

Ithaca College Flips Over PancakeBot

Updated March 16 at 3:00 p.m.

Read more about Ithaca College's 3-D printing lab in the Ithaca Voice: "Pancakes to prosthetics: 3-D printing the future at Ithaca College"

For most college students, pancakes are a fluffy vehicle for maple syrup best enjoyed as a late breakfast on a Saturday morning. But for Ithaca College Professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers and his research students, pancakes are a fun way of learning the critical thinking and design skills required for 3-D printing.

That’s because Professor Rogers has a PancakeBot.

The PancakeBot is a two-dimensional printer that allows users to print images in pancake form. Using computer software, Rogers and his students first convert an image into as many as four shades of pancake. The printer then extrudes pancake batter layer by layer onto a hot griddle. The batter that is laid down first browns more, creating the different shades. After flipping the pancake, the final image is complete.

While printing pictures out of pancake is undeniably fun, the PancakeBot serves an educational purpose for Rogers, who operates Ithaca College’s 3-D scanning and printing lab. Working with the PancakeBot helps students learn the skills that can help with 3-D design and printing.

“A lot of people think it’s pretty straight forward – you buy a 3-D printer, put in your file, and out comes this perfect thing. It’s not that easy at all,” says Rogers. “You need to think on the design side. You have to have an understanding of what the printer needs on the front end, and the PancakeBot is very similar to that.”

For example, the consistency of the batter and the temperature of the griddle have to be accounted for in order to print an accurate and precise image.

Nathan Antonacci ’16, is president of the Ithaca College Engineering Club, and has been working with both the 3-D printers and the PancakeBot in Rogers’ lab.

“We’ve been getting a feel for what kind of batters we need to be using, whether to make them thick or thin,” says Antonacci. “And also trying to get a feel for how to get pictures to print out well on the griddle, because it cooks at different consistencies.”

Professor Rogers first discovered the PancakeBot while searching for 3-D printers on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. It didn’t take long for him to decide to invest in the project and purchase his own.

“I thought, ‘How can I not back this?’”

Rogers and his research students are involved in a bevy of projects that involve different fields on campus, from scanning and printing historic artifacts to printing and constructing a functional prosthetic hand.

Rogers’ lab currently has three 3-D printers, in addition to the PancakeBot. Antonacci and Rogers recently won a grant from the Society of Physics Students to build their own 3-D printer using 3-D-printed parts.

“It’s really cool how I came into this not knowing a thing about 3-D printing, thinking it was only the smartest of the smart could figure it out,” says Antonacci. “I know now that with a little time and effort and guidance, you can figure it out for yourself.”

IC will soon receive five additional 3-D printers from 3D Systems through the MakerLab Club, a partnership between 3D Systems, the Young Adult Library Services Association and the Association of Science and Technology Centers.