Jan 15, 2016 | By Alec

While food 3D printing is becoming more and more well-known, nothing has been quite as successful as pancake 3D printers. What could it be? Is it that pancakes are universally eaten and delicious or that you only have to extrude a single mixture? Whatever it is, we’ve seen so many different pancake 3D printer models already. The first, to our knowledge, was the PancakeBot printer by Miguel Valenzuela made from a Lego Mindstorms set, which has since resulted in a number of commercial models. Since then, pancake 3D printing has exploded in popularity, even spurring UK design firm Kinneir Dufort to combine 3D printed pancakes with facial recognition software.

However, 3D printed pancakes have also been very popular in China, where former IBM employee Wu Yili followed his dreams and set up the first commercial Chinese pancake 3D printer last year. Back in June 2015, Wu Yili and his team of 16 partners (all graduates from Tsinghua University) set up the Peter Pancake company, and have been a huge hit in Beijing since then. However, that original 3D printer wasn’t without its problems: it was too large, too unwieldy, and perhaps most importantly, didn’t provide uniform heating.

Due to these problems, Wu Yili and his team have now developed a second version of the Peter Pancake 3D printer. This second version is 50 cm long, 60 cm wide, 40 cm high, and has a baking pan (the printbed) the size of A4 paper, with heating pipes laid in a row under the pan. A movable shelf has been set up above the pan, which enables the batter bottle to be moved around. This second 3D printer can also be operated by tablet, making it a significant improvement on the first model.

Of course part of the design challenge is that pancake batter doesn’t exactly act like plastic does, while the baking segment adds a whole new dimension to 3D printing. “In the beginning we felt very simple, but when we actually tested the machine, we found it particularly difficult to control the liquid forming. We need to consider liquid flow rate and take various factors into account, including flow curve, light and shade effects of the droppers,” Co-founder Shi Kan Yue said of the design difficulties.

As such, the team was faced with significant hardware and software challenges. By now, the hardware has gone through four updates, while the 3D printer’s code took more than six months to perfect. During this process they needed to test numerous parameters to get the results just right. “In order to print an image in the pancakes, we have printed more than ten thousand lines, to finally create uniform lines that can be controlled,” Shi Kan Yue explained.

But their latest iteration of the Peter Pan pancake 3D printer features a very impressive design. As Wu Yili explained, it is much quicker than the previous machines. Depending on the complexity of the pattern selected, it can complete a pancake in as fast as two minutes. “The more complex pattern, the slower it is. For example, printing Iron Man pancakes is very quick, but print portrait pancakes with more details will be slow,” he explains. A complex pancake will take about five minutes, which isn’t too slow either.

The taste is also supposed to be excellent and quite different from traditional hand-made pancakes. “Our selection of raw materials are pure milk, eggs, butter, cake mixes, but no water,” he explains. This ensures that the final mixture has the right level of consistency, but obviously means that the taste will be a bit different than what you’re used to. This latest Peter Pan 3D pancakes printer could, however, be the key to their success and the company has already received significant backing. Last October, the company managed to raise significant funds through crowdfunding website JD, with each machine selling for 8888 yuan (approximately $1350 USD). They have also received around 1 million USD in backing from three different investors. The future of Peter Pan Pancake 3D printer thus looks very bright indeed.

However, it seems that pancake 3D printers are hugely popular beyond Beijing as well. Recently, mr. Ran from Chengdu city in the west of China revealed his very own pancake 3D printer. This particular model is capable of completely 3D printing seven or eight different palm-sized pancakes in just ten minutes, also making it a very intriguing option. It uses 3D printing principles similar to a 2D printer, but instead of ink and paper it relies on eggs, flour and a pan. The maker further said that, depending on the complexity of the pancake, it usually only takes a minute and a half to 3D print one.

Mr Ran further said that a more compact pancake 3D printer for use in homes is forthcoming. This commercial version will also be upgraded to 3D print pancakes simultaneously, in an attempt to meet market (and probably family) needs. Pancake 3D printers have been appearing in different makerspaces over the past two years, with more and more businesses looking to invest in this food 3D printing market. The current price of one of these machines will be around 5000 yuan right now (or approximately $760 USD).

In short, it’s starting to look like pancake 3D printing could be that one niche that could launch food 3D printing as a whole. Fortunately, it’s also already possible to build one of these machines yourself. If you happen to be getting hungry and a boring regular pancake can’t satisfy your urges, check out this Pancake Printer on Instructables by umuterkal that you can build yourself from 3D printed parts and a Raspberry Pi 2.



Posted in 3D Printer



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Syd wrote at 7/1/2016 1:20:29 AM:

Ran's printer is literally a PancakeBot.... The base is 100% identical.

craig wrote at 1/15/2016 1:50:43 PM:

gotta give it to the Chinese. They are the best at stealing ideas. Way to go China. Now come up with someone of your own. oh wait. that takes work. MERICA!!!!!!!

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