EC man, CVTC instructor pools talents to save the bees | Local news

By Alyssa Van Duyse Chippewa Valley Technical College

BRACKETT – Ted Simpson pulled the beekeeper’s suit from the trunk of his car, stepped into the all-white sweater, pulled the mesh hood over his head and fastened several zippers.

He walked to the four-foot-tall wooden fence protecting two square wooden cabinets. The fence is decorated with barbed wire to keep the bears out. Like Pooh, they are lured by the honey of the bees. But Simpson said the lack of cover also puts off the black hulking mammals.

Simpson has been a beekeeper for two years – a novice to the hobby, according to him. But by nature, the Eau Claire man is passionate about saving the bees and has come up with a way to make their lives a little easier.

Simpson, 57, didn’t just check the bees for sports on the plot of land in rural Brackett in the first week of August. He noted the bee experiment he had devised and continued by Chippewa Valley Technical College mechanical design instructor Joe Vydrzal.

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“The main product that beekeepers want more than anything else is clean honeycomb,” Simpson said. “Bees take forever to make it. You give up about eight pounds of honey per pound of comb because it takes so much work for the bees to make the wax. Once the comb is built, they fill it with honey.

“If you could give the bees more honeycomb, they could do a lot more pollination,”

Simpson, also a school bus driver, took students to CVTC’s Manufacturing Education Center. As an inquisitive man, he went on tour with the students and that’s how his idea was born.

To give the bees a wing, Simpson wondered if a honeycomb structure could be designed and 3D printed, dipped in a light layer of beeswax and then attached to frames inside the hive.

The only place he knew to take his self-proclaimed “crazy idea” was Chippewa Valley Technical College.

“I happened to be working in the prototype lab one day and Ted (Simpson) came in and started talking,” Vydrzal said. “I am a mechanical designer by profession. I’m an instructor, so designing fascinates me. When (Simpson) said, ‘Let’s try to create a way for bees to be more productive,’ I was all over it.”

Vydrzal chose Simpson’s brain based on the size of the individual combs and the thickness of the comb walls, after which Vydrzal got to work designing and printing.

The 3D prototyping lab at CVTC is a way to train students and business professionals who need courses on this type of equipment. But it’s also perfect for community collaborations, such as a plan to save the bees.

A 3D comb about 4 inches by 5 inches took the machine about five hours to print. But Simpson said it would take the bees that much longer.

“It can take a month for them to be in nature,” Simpson said. “Other times it can take two weeks. They just do what they do.”

So when Simpson entered the beehive area in the open field, he was cautiously optimistic. He had placed two prototype combs in the beehive for a week. He wondered if the bees would be curious or ignore it.

But behold, when he took the frame out of the box, nearly 500 bees were busy building an extra comb on the 3D-printed structures. Simpson was excited to see the progress.

“This is very promising,” Simpson said. “I wish I had started the process earlier, but this is promising.”

While no honey was present, that doesn’t mean the bees won’t eventually produce. Simpson is going to place the frame in one of the lower boxes where bees have already made honey in the combs to see if they will adapt to the fake combs and start producing honey there too.

Simpson said this project would never have had a chance without CVTC.

“The College has definitely given me an opportunity to do this where I could never have done it any other way,” he said. “Something this small and experimental doesn’t justify a huge cost.”

Vydrzal said he feels like he was in the right place at the right time. The project is perfect for CVTC.

“This is the test, right? It’s a prototype,’ said Vydrzal. “That’s what we’re here for. That’s what CVTC is in my mind: helping the community.”

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