BELLCOMB -- MODERN BEE TECHNOLOGY
Sixteen years ago when my houseboat home/office was under
construction, a struggling company called International Structuralcomb in New Westminster, B.C. was producing what seemed a sound
product -- with a concept that would reduce the number of trees
required to build a house yet still providing exceptional strength
I had their strong Structuralcomb panels incorporated, where
feasible, into my floating home, mainly for the floor of the secondstorey bedroom, which also became the kitchen ceiling. The panels
were perfect. They absorb sound and insulate well. If I were
building a home today I would use similar construction, perhaps
complemented with "Metalogs" in some parts of the building.
Unfortunately, at that time capital was hard to come by and untimely
financial problems forced the company to quietly fold their panels.
You might say they were ahead of their time.
Today a similar concept called Bellcomb Technologies is alive and
thriving in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They are having more success.
Why? Because a condition has come into play that wasn't considered
almost two decades ago -- the environmental factor. Pressures
against cutting wood, any kind of wood, are increasing. This
"honeycomb" technology uses only seven cords of wood to construct a
2,000-square-foot house instead of the 20 cords required by
conventional construction. Twenty cords with this technology will
build almost three houses instead of one.
To maintain a "sustainable forest" we are going to have to do "more
with less" as Buckminster Fuller kept preaching for years -- with
few listeners. It is not enough to plant a tree or even two for each
one cut. We are going to have to do a lot more, with a waste
reduction of at least 75 percent, with what we do cut. The Bellcomb
process provides one practical path to follow.
From the bee as original architect, came such early developments
along this line as the Mosquito Bomber, built from Douglas fir in a
paper and wood honeycomb. Worked great during wartime since bullets
just went right through aircraft covering and patching afterwards was
usually a simple glue or fabric job.
Although the same principle was used in American Super Fortress
Bombers, it never really caught on except as a widely-used substitute
for corrugated cardboard for the packaging industry.
In the 1970s the aerospace industry took another look. They started
to use honeycomb in airplanes and spacecraft because, pound-forpound, it is among the strongest, most rigid products on earth. It
was used, for example, on John Glenn's space capsule, the interior
structures for Skylab and the shock-resisting hulls of the world's
fastest hydroplanes. Military housing has used it since 1960.
An Australian engineer eventually came up with a process that made
small volume, or short-run manufacturing, cost-effective.
Consequently today a custom-built home, office or warehouse can be
erected quickly with relatively unskilled labor. A Structuralcomb
building was erected in 20 hours at the UN Habitat Conference in
Vancouver in 1976 by a team of 15 unskilled women.
Construction of the honeycomb panels starts with a matrix of hexagons, following the honey bee's original plans. Two skins are added
to make a stronger, absolutely flat, panel. These skins may be
paper, plastic, metal, wood veneer, cement, gypsum board, granite or
marble, almost anything as long as it is flat. Such beams can be
tiny, load-bearing or for three-storey buildings.
Panels can be rendered water resistant or fire retardant or, at extra
cost, totally waterproof and fireproof and designed to any specifications. Once you have the panels, only a glue gun and a screw gun
are required to assemble the home. It sounds crazy, but technology
at times can do this.
With only two-thirds of the wood of a traditional woodframe old
house, with fewer workers required and with uncomplicated
construction, the building costs considerably less. It can handle 40
to 125 lb. live floor or roof loading.
David Hartwell, President,
Bellcomb Technologies Inc.,
70 North 22nd Ave.,
Minneapolis, MN 55411-2237.
Phone: 612/521-2425. Fax: 612/521-2376.
* * *
chapter index |
back to Main Chapter Listing
back to Home Page