Honey has been a staple of human society for tens of thousands of years, perhaps longer. We’ve relied on bees and their natural hive-building capabilities during that entire time.
While nature is very good at what it does, 3D printing has actually been able to help optimize honey production with the use of new 3D printed honeycombs. While even the best 3D printers on the market for home makers don’t offer you these capabilities, scientists in New Zealand used advanced systems to create this new breakthrough.
Giving Bees More Time to Do What They Do Best
Bees have a lot of capabilities that most of us never think about. They’re one of the top pollinators in the world, without whom our food production would be seriously crippled. They’re also capable of 3D printing things on their own – they produce their honeycombs from materials out of their own bodies.
The problem is that creating honeycombs takes bees a long time and a lot of effort. That’s time that they aren’t actually creating honey.
To help optimize the process, several scientists in New Zealand decided to take over part of the process – the honeycomb-making part – so that the bees have more time to focus on what they do best, which is making delicious honey.
The team is based at the Auckland University of Technology, and their design allowed the increase of honey production without actually increasing the strain or stress placed on the bees (one serious problem with other honey production optimization methods).
“It takes a lot of energy for bees to make the comb,” explained Richard Evatt, a beekeeping expert. “Honey is the bees’ primary food source, so they eat a lot of it to power their building.
They have to consume a lot of honey. It’s six to eight times the amount of honey to one times the wax.”
The team created a series of 3D printed honeycombs, which were actually almost identical replicas to the combs used in nature. Those were placed into the hive and were even able to be moved into right away.
This allowed the bees to completely skip the comb-building process and jump right into honey production.
“They would just have to come along, put nectar in it, fan off the moisture and then, bang, you’ve got honey,” said Evatt. The team did hit a few snags along the way, with the most serious being getting the 3D printed honeycombs just right.
The result is the capability to do in a single day with one 3D printer what it would take 60,000 bees to do in a week.