Jan 20, 2016 | By Alec

As 3D printing has repeatedly proven itself as a cost-saving manufacturing solution in a number of complex industries, it’s easy to forget that even 3D printing still comes with significant expenses. News from HiveHaven, a clever honey production startup from the Sunshine Coast of Australia, therefore serves as a stark financial reminder. HiveHaven had taken up 3D printing to build perfect hives for the native Australian stingless bee, which are notoriously difficult to keep, but have just revealed that they are replacing 3D printing with custom construction with recycled plastics to keep down costs.

As you might remember, HiveHaven reached out to the web back in the summer of 2015 through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that would enable them to develop custom 3D printed beehives. The beekeeping specialists also developed a wide range of hives specifically adapted to the needs of different bee species, especially the common honey bee and the Australian native stingless bee. “Our innovative design and technology combats major threats from overheating, spore-based disease and pests including the deadly small hive beetle, as well as hive theft, through the use of GPS tracking,” they explain. “As a sustainable manufacturing alternative to hoop pine, our boxes are made from durable materials that require minimal maintenance, subsequently providing beekeepers with improved returns on their time and investment.”

While their crowdfunding campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, HiveHaven continued to pioneer these 3D printed hives with built-in GPS and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems, something they argue was especially necessary for the cultivation of native stingless bee honey. “Bees face an uncertain future. They are at a tipping point. Yet, they are so critical to human survival, due to their pollination role in nature and also for our agricultural crops. It is estimated that bees currently contribute $1.7 billion to the Australian economy,” they say. “As beekeepers we were looking for solutions to our own problems and this has grown into a commercial product which delivers sustainable solutions for the issues facing the apiarist industry.”

And with their custom-made 3D printed hives they were remarkably successful. Native stingless bees are difficult to keep because they are particularly susceptible to bad weather and can die in droves when faced with a storm or unusual heat. "Compare the stingless native bee to a honeybee, which collects water on a hot day and fans the hive — as a sort of evaporative cooler — the stingless native bee doesn't have the ability to do that, and are very susceptible to heat,” they tell Australian reporters. Stingless bee honey is therefore a very valuable, luxury product, and this innovative 3D printing approach with hives that can regulate temperature and living conditions has been very successful in producing it. “Stingless native bee honey definitely has a wow factor. The sky is the limit,” founder Ann Ross explained.

But despite this success, HiveHaven will be stopping production of 3D printed hives due to the costs involved. Though the results are excellent, with 3D printed material functioning as a very good insulator for maintaining stable temperatures, Ross told reporters that it was simply too expensive. “Using 3D printed technology you can create an impervious surface that spoil based diseases can't penetrate,” she explained. “[But] the challenge of 3D printing is the expense factor, and the time to print each box.” She further revealed that a 3D printed hive could cost up to $900 AUD (approximately $625 USD) to make, or about nine times as expensive as a timber alternative.

With 3D printing thus put on hold for now, HiveHaven is currently looking at recycled plastic sheets for production, which have some similar characteristics. “We have been looking at HDP [high density polyethylene], which is a recycled material and there is plenty of it around,” Ross said. “It is definitely more affordable than 3D printing, and at the moment it seems to be something that is a standout.” This announcement definitely reflects the hurdles faced by 3D printing startups in general – though an excellent production tool for achieving unusual results, 3D printing is still much more expensive than other manufacturing alternatives.

 

 

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Skip wrote at 2/5/2016 3:50:45 PM:

This is the problem with focusing on the tech instead of the outcomes (classic tech nerd problem). 3D printing is about the worst tool for this case looks like to me. 3D printing is cool, but its a terrible production tool, far too unreliable and slow with huge material costs relative to other methods.. Use the right tools for the job! (I have two, but also wood working tools, a CNC machine shop, welders etc.... right tools for the job!)



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