By Alec | 3Ders
While most 3D printed innovations have a futuristic feel to them, an Australian father and son duo have just made an uproar in the 3D printing community and outside it with a solution to a problem afflicting mankind since the dawn of our existence: how do you get your hands on delicious honey without being stung hundreds of times? The solution? The Flow Hive is a bee hive featuring 3D printed honey combs that open up to form a honey tap. While that sounds impressive enough to laymen honey eaters, its revolutionary implications are perhaps more clear when you find out that this concept has just raised more than $12 million USD in funds on Indiegogo.
As father and son Stuart and Cedar Anderson explain on their website, harvesting honey isn’t easy. The most common method revolves around sedating the bees with a smoker, breaking open the hives and taking the frames out (crushing many of the bees in the process), and using machinery to extract the honey. It’s an arduous process that theoretically sounds okay, but can be a practical nightmare. As Cedar illustrates through an example, it just isn’t easy. ‘Many years ago I went down to one of my beehives, which I knew was a pretty wild hive. The hive was packed with bees and it was near impossible to get the honey out without squashing lots of them. I really don’t like squashing bees!’ he says. ‘The bees became grumpier and started to sting me through my bee suit. They weren't happy. I put the hive back together, squashing more bees as the lid went on and ended up running away across the field thinking…there has to be a better way!’
And that better way is exactly what they have been working on over the past ten years, and is now finally ready to share with the rest of the work: the Flow Hive. ‘Flow is a revolutionary beehive invention, allowing you to harvest honey without opening the hive and with minimal disturbance to the bees. It’s the beekeeepers dream…’ the father and son duo write. ‘We are excited to introduce our new invention that allows you to enjoy fresh honey straight out of your beehive without opening it. It’s far less stress for the bees and much, much easier for the beekeeper.’
So how does it work exactly? Well, its surprisingly simple. Essentially, the entire installation revolves around 3D printed mechanical honey frames. Each made from food-grade, non-toxic plastic, the 5.8 mm honeycomb frames function just like any other manmade hive: the bees fill the frames with honey and cap it off with wax. But instead of having to break the hives apart to get to the honey (and going to war with the bees), this clever system features a mechanism that – by turning a big metal handle – breaks the cells apart. Gravity does the rest, as the honey flows downward into a tubing system that ends in a tap, enabling you to easily gather the honey in jars.
It’s so simple and yet so clever, and results in pure honey. It doesn’t even need to be filtered for wax and dead bees, nor does it kill your precious workers during extraction. The cells even open wide enough to ensure bees don’t catch a leg or a wing in it. ‘Because the bees experience little disturbance during harvesting, they are usually non-aggressive and much less likely to try and defend their hive and sting you. Depending on how busy they are with gathering nectar, they may not even notice you at the back of the hive,’ they write. The system is even compatible with existing hives, and can theoretically even be modified for automated and remote harvesting.
And more importantly, the results are delicious. ‘It is well known that unprocessed honey eaten directly from the honey comb has more flavour (the honeys are not mixed or processed and there has been less exposure to oxygen). It was a surprise to us to get frequent feedback that the honey from a Flow™ hive has full and unique flavours that before were only possible from eating honeycomb,’ the developers add. One frame can hold about 3 kg of honey, while a complete box can result in a harvest of as much as 20 kg of honey.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that all the work has been taken from beekeeping, but it certainly makes things a lot easier. As Des Cannon from the Australasian Beekeeper magazine said in Australian media, ‘from a beekeeper's point of view, it's such an un-messy way to extract honey and you don't need extracting equipment. All you need is a tube and a jar and you can get the honey out of the hive. You don't need to spend $400, $500 minimum to get extracting equipment and have honey spread throughout your house while you're trying to extract it.’
Nonetheless, the father and son never expected the uproar they would cause. ‘For us, the honey wasn't our breadwinner. So we don't come from the background of that having to be our commercial business. For us, it was more about, 'I can't help but think there has to be a better way,’ Cedar said. But almost overnight, the pair have become business moguls thanks to their widely successful crowdfunding campaign. ‘The target was 70 grand and we reached it in two minutes. That's what we needed to manufacture and we're already there,’ Cedar said. ‘It's been so overwhelming, the response we've gotten. I mean, to have 1.8 million people view our Facebook video - and it's only been up for a week - we've been snowballed by interest and every other second, there's another email in the inbox. It's... it's, um - I haven't slept for days.’
But obviously a funding percentage of 17,000% can finance quite a business. Over the next few months, the Anderson boys will begin actual manufacturing of their hives in Brisbane, Australia, while the overwhelming response has already formed plans to start manufacturing in the US as well. If all things go well, the beekeeping revolution will start shipping the first frames in December of this year.
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