North Island College Engineering Students Abuzz with Ideas

NIC engineering students earned top marks this year for creating a cocoon-cleaning prototype for a local mason bee farmer.

The prototype includes a rotating drum to clean a large number of bee cocoons at once; a machine that feeds the wooden trays into an existing conveyor system; and a third machine to sterilize each tray using a combination of re-purposed, 3D-printed and other components.

The project started last March when students visited Mason Bee Central to meet Gordon Cyr, who produces mason bees as pollinators for farmers and gardeners.

Mason bees are solitary insects that make their homes in small holes – like those made by woodpeckers or beetles – rather than living communally in a hive.

Farmers raise the bees in cocoons that need to be individually cleaned and sterilized along with the hundreds of grooved, wooden nesting trays the bees live in.

The painstaking process can take days, so Cyr asked students to engineer a way to speed it up.

The resulting prototype could cut the amount of cleaning time “by about 80 per cent,” said Cyr who was pleased with the students’ resourcefulness. “They used a lot of materials that were at hand and they made excellent use of available resources.”

In previous years, NIC students in the Introduction to Engineering Design (ENR-110) course have designed solar greenhouses, micro-malting plants and other projects but this is the first year students created a working prototype for a client.

“I was impressed with the quality of students’ work,” said Dennis Lightfoot, NIC engineering instructor. “I think they also exceeded the client’s expectations, which should make them very proud.”

Many students found the engaging project a good way to apply their skills and prepare for an engineering career.

“This didn’t even feel like school, really, because you’re building and designing and doing what you’re going to be doing in the future,” Dawson Coates said.

Classmate Gage Vanderlee agreed, adding, “it was nice to work on a real engineering project for a real person.”

NIC students complete the Engineering Foundations certificate at the Comox Valley campus in one year, before transferring to engineering degrees at UVic and at universities across BC. For more information on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs at NIC, visit