3D printing makes it possible to carry out challenging design projects in a cost-effective and sustainable way. For architects and industrial designers in particular, this technology offers unimagined possibilities, with virtually no limits to creativity. And it doesn’t stop at fashion or architecture: 3D technologies are all around us, even in nature, as you can see with 3D printing startup HIIVE. This German company is using the power of 3D printing to provide a better home for bees, respecting the environment and their needs. This is especially important considering the prevalence of colony collapse disorder, which has caused a global decline in bee populations. Considering the importance of bees to our own ecosystems, it is perhaps not surprising that startups like HIIVE are dedicated to creating better and more bee-friendly hives. We spoke with Philip Potthast, one of the co-founders of HIIVE, about the mission and ambitions of this young company and learned more about these 3D printed hives.
3DN: Could you briefly introduce yourself and your connection to 3D printing?
My name is Philip Potthast, I am the co-founder of HIIVE. My background is in industrial design. In my work, I focus on how to use sustainable materials and recycled raw materials. 3D printing is a love-hate relationship for me as an industrial designer: On the one hand, 3D printing offers an incredible number of possibilities in product development and helps develop products iteratively. On the other hand, it can be time-consuming and stressful if you don’t pay attention to all the details from the start.
3DN: What about HIIVE, what is it and how did it come about?
HIIVE provides a better home for honey bees. HIIVE allows beekeepers to keep their bees in a more natural way by supporting the natural behavior of Apis Mellifera. Our bee house is made exclusively from recycled and natural materials. Throughout development, the focus has been on human- and animal-centric design. The result is an interplay between the demands that bees place on their habitat and ease of use and ergonomics for beekeepers. Our mission is to create a natural and species-appropriate habitat for honey bees.
3DN: Can you tell us a bit more about the 3D technology(s) you use?
When it comes to 3D printing, we cooperate with the filament manufacturer 3dk.berlin. Currently, we use various FDM printers to create our components, which serve as the basic structure of our HIIVES. We use 3dk engineering PLA because it is dimensionally stable up to 130 degrees. Normal PLA would not withstand the extreme weather conditions our product is exposed to.
3DN: What inspired the design of the HIIVE bee hives? What is the advantage of using 3D printing in your production?
Honey bees originally live in the cavities of trees. They are the natural habitat of the Apis mellifera (western bee). Unfortunately, for various reasons, there are hardly any wild bee colonies left in our forests. Tree cavities have a special microclimate that is not only good for bees, but also for the beneficial symbionts that cohabit in tree cavities with bees. HIIVE is the first industrially fabricable tree cavity that replicates the conditions of a tree cavity. With the help of 3D printing, we were able to iteratively develop the optimal structure in many tests in the first place.
3DN: How do you see the future development of this project? What are the next milestones?
We are currently developing a sensor kit and companion app that can optionally be used as an extension to HIIVE. This offers completely new possibilities. With the help of our low-energy sensor, important parameters can be tracked without disturbing the bees. We are also working on a swarm alarm that will notify HIIVE owners when to expect a swarm. Our next big milestone for 2022 is bringing HIIVE into mass production.
3DN: Do you have any final words for our readers?
At the end of February, we will start our crowdfunding campaign to mass-produce HIIVE. Anyone who wants to give honey bees a natural home or is interested in keeping bees can help us there. More information on this and on HIIVE itself can be found HERE.
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*Cover photo credits: HIIVE