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Joseph Johnson, a trainee teacher at Edge Hill University, has developed an amazing project which he hopes will allow the bee population to increase. Through the use of 3D Printing and other advanced technologies, he has been able to develop and prototype a working product which will pollinate flowering plants, collect nectar and aid farming. This amazing piece of work is an example of the diversity of the use of 3D Printing for all types of people, in all types of industries all over the world.

Written by Joseph .S. Johnson, Edge Hill University

I intend to make a product the could be used in combination with, or to replace bees to pollinate crop and relieve the pressure of industrial farming and allow the bee population to increase.

  • This product should be able to pollinate flowering plants.
  • Communicate with others of the same product as a form of hive mind.
  • Collect other resources such as nectar to make honey.
  • Aid farming and make farming in adverse conditions easier.

I feel the best way to achieve these goals would be to some form of airborne micro-drone that resembles a bee or preforms the same function as a honey bee.

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Harvard University have been working to produce a micro-drone inspired by the biology of a bee and the insect’s hive behaviour. I will use this prototype product as a starting point to develop my own mechanical bee. As I intend to build to this product I aim to include more feature to greatly improve the product and benefit the intensive farming industry.

What technologies could be used to create this robotic bee?

As I would aim for this product to enter mass production in the near future (the next 10-20 years) I need to look at what technologies already exist and could be used or further developed to create these robotic bees. To identify what functions need to be met I will identify parts of the honeybee’s anatomy that I feel serve a vital function that my bee must mimic and discuss how I can meet these functions with modern and futuristic technologies. I will also aim to adapt parts of the honeybee’s anatomy which I do not feel are necessary but could be alter to assist in farming in some way. As I highlight some of these new technologies I may make the assumption that, as most products have develop from their initial idea or first version of the product with advances in technology, these products become smaller and more powerful overtime.

3D Printing

3D Printing or rapid prototyping is used to create small detailed models which is fully automated on the product has been drawn. To use this a 3D model of your product most be drawn on a software such as Solidworks. One printing a 3D Printer uses a thermosetting plastic known as ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), this is heated to around 250° C. then it is extruded in thin layers, and the model is built layer by layer. 3D Printing can be used for modelling at any stage in the design process as it can be used to produce a rigid and durable product with moving parts, if desired, that can be inspected from all angles

3D Printing has a number of advantages. Once the model is drawn the printing is automate leaving the designer to work on other task. Small detailed and intricate parts can be made to test mechanisms and this can be more cost effective than making the parts by hand. Fully enclosed parts can be made hollow making for cheap and lightweight models. Failed models can easily be recycled if they have so other materials attached to them, as they ground into pellets and recast into reels of ABS plastic. Also one a piece has been design identical models can be printed continuously if needed.

3D Printing does however come with some drawbacks, larger model and take a long time to produce and if the designer wishes to make changes to the design during the printing process there is nothing they can do other than wait and print the altered design later. 3D Printing could promote laziness or a drop in ability of hand skills and it is very easy and time efficient to print very simple parts that could be made by hand. Older machine do not give as smooth a finish as newer printers so if a model is being spray painted this may take more time to sand and prime for the same level of finish. Multiple part you which to attach must be design with mechanical joins or joined using a plastic welder or two step epoxy resin such as Araldite. While they are useful for classroom use they can cause a bottle necks in class flow as they have limited space on the printing beds and most school can only afford one or two.

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The wings were drawn using the revolve feature and the trim entities tool to achieve that fuse fore and hindwing that resembles a capital B. The thorax of the drone remained generally the same shape throughout the design again this was drawn with the loft tool to achieve a constant shape with a gradual curve. As when using the loft tool you select a collection of shape on different planes and the softer will and to fill the spaces between all these shapes, and be change the size of these shapes or what shapes the are alter the end result.

The most of the time spent designing the thorax was spent ensuring that all the interface joints would fit once printed, these check can be some by using the mate components tool. Once again the design of the abdomen barely altered and was drawn using the loft boss tool, however if I were to reprint this part I would be sure to add and interface joint so that this component connects to the thorax with greater ease and this part had to be held in place when each part was bonded together.

I did not include an interface joint here at this time as I was hoping to create a faux universal joint using the domed and concaved shapes of the abdomen and thorax, like a ball and socket joint. The head underwent some small changes I tried to draw the part and a whole firstly, it proved very difficult to make symmetrical. However, when I learned how to use the mirror entities tool I could draw half of the head and fuse a mirror image to it.

After speaking with my colleagues again and observing other models leave the 3D Printer I felt the need to alter my project. To make it easier to print I straightened the antennae and altered the mandibles how ever I prefer the mandibles and the positioning of the antennae and if I was given the chance I would use that design if I were to make the product again.

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I then began to print my design by saving the files as STL files and uploading them into the 3D Printers software called catalyst. By tessellating the pieces of my design with the orientation tool I was able to fit all the parts on one printing board. This print took eight hours to complete. Once printed I removed the support material, (the light grey plastic that keeps the design in place and prevents misshaping while printing) from my design and sanded each piece individually then I assembled the components joining them together with Araldite and the cleaned the model with methylated spirits before spraying.

How this project relates to design and technology within schools

I feel that this project or others similar to this robotic drone (other futuristic design and make themed projects) are incredibly useful ways of covering the design and technology GCSE subject content and principles of designing and making. As pupils will have to create a design brief for a prototype that creatively responds to an issue and consider how this prototype would affect the public in a social, moral and economical concept. This projects would help pupils identify newly developed materials and technologies. This will also teach pupils about the iterative design process and they will have to evaluate and quality test their prototype throughout the making process. Pupils will also build upon their communication through 2D and 3D drawings and while drawing take inspiration and review the work of professional designers. A projects similar to this also opens and wide range of opportunities for cross curricular teaching, as while gathering research for this project I have covered elements of biology by discussing the anatomy of bees and the difference in species also the coevolution process of bees and flowers, spectrums of light, the life cycle of plants and the genetic modification of cells. The design piece also focuses heavily on biomimicry as a design concept.

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