Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Waxing lyrical at Mystery Creek

Thousands of people from around the country are scheduled to attend the four-day long Fieldays event at Mystery Creek. Photo / Alan Gibson
Thousands of people from around the country are scheduled to attend the four-day long Fieldays event at Mystery Creek. Photo / Alan Gibson

A group of Waikato entrepreneurs is pushing a clever innovation that could change the way honeycombs are created - and it is getting plenty of buzz from Kiwi companies.

The Hamilton friends, who met at Waikato University, have been developing technology that could solve the frustrating wastage of honey that comes with preparing honeycombs - and help combat a nasty disease that has been ravaging beehives.

Several months ago, the group took a smart concept raised by one of its members, a beekeeper, to the Wintec Innes48 Business Startup Competition.

"That's where it grew legs and we started turning it into a business idea," Bronson Waaka said.

3D Gold Honeycombs, which aims to produce tens of thousands of pre-made honeycomb frames, will be one of the start-ups showcased this week at the Fieldays Innovations Centre during the annual event at Mystery Creek.

Waaka explained the traditional commercial process of getting bees to make honeycombs first involved laying a foundation of wax on to hive frames.

"From those frames, the bees will extract honey and turn it into beeswax and then make the natural honeycomb itself," he said.

"The problem is that the time can range anywhere between a week to 12 weeks, and a large amount of honey is wasted in the process.

"Every 10kg of honey makes just 1kg of beeswax."

With frames pre-made from recycled beeswax, plus other materials that will include bio-plastics, the bees would be able to start producing straight away without having to first build the honeycombs.

At the same time, the group wanted to tackle the problem of the bee disease American Foulbrood, considered a major threat to the industry. Having just one infected bee typically meant the whole colony had to be destroyed.

"The end goal of our product is to try to eliminate that from happening, as well as increasing the yield of honey by reducing the amount of waste and slashing the processing time."

They first looked to 3D printing to mass-produce the frames, but are now moving towards injection moulding, that could potentially manufacture a new tray every second.

A lot of interest has been expressed by some of the country's largest producers so the team is pushing to have a final product ready for testing by summer.

Another team member, Christopher Coromandel, saw an exciting opportunity to leverage off New Zealand's clean, green image with a world-first product built from sustainable, recyclable materials.

He expected the enterprise would also benefit from the global buzz around manuka honey, that has led to a bee-keeping boom and grown an export industry now worth more than $200 million annually.

Colleague Tillery Paintin hoped the exposure would provide another boost. "We're excited about it, because we're keen to push our product forward. It's going to be a big deal for us."

Grass-roots ingenuity on show

Kiwi ingenuity ranging from cutting-edge solar collection systems to calf tube-feeding inventions will be showcased at this week's Fieldays.

Event manager Gail Hendricks said about 70 entries, spread across three categories, would be part of this year's innovation line-up. People could expect new products in farm safety, clean tech, waste management, genetics and mobile-based software.

"In our prototype category, for example, entries range from equipment you can use on farms, to applications to help you manage staff and data," Hendricks said.

Among them are the Trusti Tuber and Flexi Tuber innovations, developed by Waikato veterinarians Ursula Haywood and her husband Mark, to make administering nutrients to calves through tubes gentler, slashing behavioural stress.

Inventions at previous Fieldays have included agricultural drones, a fully composite rotary milking platform and a urine-detecting robotic trailer to help clean up waterways.

• Fieldays 2016, kicks off on Wednesday and will be held over four days at Mystery Creek. For information, visit: fieldays.co.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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