Dec 29, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printing technology is constantly improving, it is undeniable that the most efficient 3D printers having been buzzing around for thousands of years. While we like their honey the most, bees are also exceptionally good at 3D printing honeycomb structures with materials extruded from their own body, with the results being biodegradable, flawless and recyclable. But all of that 3D printing is obviously only a tool for the production and storage of honey, so a team of scientists from New Zealand have come up with an interesting way to optimize production: 3D printed honeycombs that give bees more time to produce that golden honey.

Of course, 3D printing experts have been quite interested in bees for some time, as there is something fascinating about their natural extrusion processes. Remember Jennifer Berry’s all-natural bee 3D printer? However, bees are obviously commercially interesting for their precious honey, and this team of experts from the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand have come up with a way to make honey production much faster, without putting too much strain on the bees themselves.

For as beekeeping expert Richard Evatt explained to New Zealand reporters, it takes far more energy to produce honeycombs than the actual honey we put in our tea and on our toast. “It takes a lot of energy for bees to make comb,” Evatt explains. And as honey is their main source of food, they are actually eat a lot of the stuff before beekeepers can extract it. “They have to consume a lot of honey. It's six to eight times the amount of honey to one times the wax,” he adds. While combs are thus necessary to store honey, building them actually forms a huge drain on their production.

And this is where this 3D printed innovation comes in, as a series of 3D printed honeycombs – replicas of existing ones – are placed into hives and can be moved in to immediately. This gives the bees far more time and energy to produce honey, while also leaving a lot more for the beekeepers to harvest. “They would just have to come along, put nectar in it, fan off the moisture and then, bang, you've got honey,” Evatt explains.

The only challenge is in getting the honeycombs just right, for which the research team extensively analyzed existing combs. “It's software that analyses the sound of an interior of a beehive, and the software not only analyses the sound [but] it also creates 3D objects at the same time,” designer Gerbrand van Melle explains. However, it is clear that 3D printing is a lot quicker. In perfect conditions, it would take a colony of 60,000 bees up to a week to build a comb of the same size that a 3D printer makes in a single day.

But this isn’t as easy as it sounds because, like humans, bees have to feel right at home. “One of the key things about bees is that they have a thing called bee space,” says Professor Peter Dearden. “They like spaces of particular sizes. It has to be very precise and accurate, so 3D printing seems like a great way to build up those things if you want to put in devices to cause bees to act in a particular way.” The initial results are so promising, however, that the beekeeping industry is buzzing with excitement. The next step is to 3D print these combs in actual beeswax, and then both we and the bees can really notice the benefits.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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mary wrote at 3/2/2016 7:42:47 PM:

Yzorg. Stop messing with nature for production. We can live without honey, but not the bees, they're already in decline.

yzorg wrote at 1/2/2016 5:56:18 PM:

hehe, here in europe we already do this since 2013 i worked on the CAD files...

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