3D printing helps bees make honey

Tuesday 29 Dec 2015 6:22 p.m.

Experts say 3D printing technology could change the way bees behave.

AUT University has created an artificial comb that bees are making their own, and that's leaving them more time for making the good stuff – that golden honey.

But making the sweet nectar for our morning toast is busy work.

"It takes a lot of energy for bees to make comb," says beekeeper Richard Evatt. "They have to consume a lot of honey. It's six to eight times the amount of honey to one times the wax."

Bees need the comb to store their honey, but building it saps Queen Bee and her gang's precious energy.

Now the new technology could give bees more time to rest up and focus on their honey-making work.

"They would just have to come along, put nectar in it, fan off the moisture and then, bang, you've got honey," says Mr Evatt.

The 3D-printed comb is created by computer software.

"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," says designer Gerbrand van Melle.

The artificial comb saves the bees time and energy. In perfect conditions, it takes 60,000 bees up to a week to make the same amount of comb a 3D printer can make in a day.

Ready-to-go comb means more honey and more money, and it's got beekeepers and bee experts buzzing.

"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 next step is for the designers to get the bees really buzzing by figuring out how to print artificial comb out of beeswax.

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