Self-Building, Self-Tooling, Autonomous Manufacturing
Is it possible for an automated factory to grow, like an acorn grows into an oak tree? Dani Eder wants to know, and he's working on prototype "seed factories" to try to make it happen.
A Seed Factory is a new kind of production system which has two major differences from conventional factories: self-expansion and integration.
It includes a starter set of equipment which can expand in three ways to a larger capacity, while also making useful products:
Replication - making copies of its own parts so as to eventually copy the entire set.
Diversification - making parts for new equipment, thus expanding the range of possible outputs.
Scaling - making parts for larger equipment than what is in the starter set.
The factory is designed as an integrated system. It brings together multiple production steps from raw materials and energy to finished items. Each part of the factory produces resources needed by the other parts to function, making it self-sustaining. Since the parts are all in one place, the whole production chain can take advantage of automation and robotics. Integrated processes can also take waste outputs from one step, and use them as inputs for another. The combination results in a highly efficient design.
As the factory expands, it produces a growing variety of products for end users, and an increasing percentage of the items for its own growth.
In an interview, he answers some questions about seed factories:
Why use the metaphor of a “seed” for self-constructing factories?
Biological seeds grow into larger organisms using local matter and energy, and eventually produce copies of the original seed. By analogy a seed factory grows from a small starter set to a larger factory using local matter and energy and high levels of automation. The factory is flexible and general purpose, and produces a variety of useful products. It's also intended to be self-replicating, producing more seed factories.
We talk in terms of a factory rather than a single machine because (1) a number of different production processes are required which are best carried out separately, and (2) for the size and quantity of products we want to make, the final set of equipment is closer to commercial building size than garage or desktop size.
Why hasn’t this been done before?
For any number of reasons, historical, social, political, and economic, we tend to divide production into separate factories—the oil refinery is separate from the steel mill, which is separate from the auto plant. This separation requires tremendous cooperation and coordination among the various manufacturers to bring all of the raw materials and fabricated parts together to assemble the complex *things* of our modern lives. In short, the old manufacturing model makes 21st century optimization impossible.
What's the biggest obstacle to Seed Factories?
There is no simple answer, but it's easy to illustrate the problem. In 1908, Ford revolutionized manufacturing and the automobile market with the introduction of the Model T. There was a popular joke at the time that you could get one in any color, as long as it was black. These days, black may be considered the height of fashion, but only because everything comes in such a wide variety of colors, sizes, shapes, flavors, and so on ad nauseam.
The point being, manufacturing is a much more complex process 100 years later. Our old-style factories have been abandoned, because it seemed impossible to retrofit and update them (though labor issues and profit margins played a large part in this). This has left much of the West with an industrial vacuum; an enormous decrease in manufacturing activity, because we've innovated ourselves out of the business.
Science fiction fans have been anticipating this development since the idea was explained and fully visualized by sf great Philip K. Dick, in his 1953 short story Autofac:
The cylinder had split. At first he couldn't tell if it had been the impact or deliberate internal mechanisms at work. From the rent, an ooze of metal bits was sliding. Squatting down, O'Neill examined them.
The bits were in motion. Microscopic machinery, smaller than ants, smaller than pins, working energetically, purposefully - constructing something that looked like a tiny rectangle of steel.
"They're building," O'Neill said, awed. He got up and prowled on. Off to the side, at the far edge of the gully, he came across a downed pellet far advanced on its construction. Apparently it had been released some time ago.
This one had made great enough progress to be identified. Minute as it was, the structure was familiar. The machinery was building a miniature replica of the demolished factory.
(Read more about Philp K. Dick's autofac)
Via Seed Factories. Also, be sure to read through this fascinating interview at FastCompany.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/6/2013)
Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.
| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |
you like to contribute a story tip?
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add
Comment/Join discussion ( 1 )
Related News Stories -
Chemputer To Grow Bespoke Drones Through Chemistry
'These are your rudimentary seed packages...' - Greg Bear, 2015.
Siemens 3D Printing Robot Spiders
'The eight thin metallic legs were pointed downwards, balanced delicately...' - Charles Sheffield, 1979.
3D Cocooner From Festo Spins Web In Mid-Air
'It makes drawings in the air following drawings it scans with photo-cells.' - Murray Leinster, 1945
XYZprinting 3D Pen Used, Reviewed By Terrible Artist
'Plastic comes out of the end of the drawing arm and hardens...' - Murray Leinster, 1945.
Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!)
is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for
the Invention Category that interests
you, the Glossary, the Invention
Timeline, or see what's New.
Snap Specs - Snapchat Spectacles - Are Video Glasses
'The old woman laid her wire-knitting aside and fixed them with the bug-eyed, opaque gape...'
Reading A Scroll Burned To Charcoal
'The scope was adjusted to generate... an image of the lower section of the book.'
Robot Arrested In Moscow
They should have thrown a net over him.
Oh Great, Fence-Climbing Robots
How long till they add the acid-tipped stingers?
Software Agents Fight Unseen On The Web
'...Worms and counter-worms loose on the data-net.'
Sandisk 1 Terabyte SD Memory Card Surfaces
'They should be Welton Fine-Grains, or they would be too bulky to ship...'
Carbyne, The Ultimate Form Of Carbon
'A continuous pseudo-one dimensional diamond crystal...'
Bradbury's Method Used In Search For Bombing Suspect
'He imagined thousands on thousands of faces peering into yards, into alleys...'
New Laser Space Debris Clearing More Subtle Than Clarke's
Rather than nudge them up, nudge them down.
Robots Learn To Swarm Safely
'They were bronzy gleams of smooth motion...'
Samsung's Smart Ring
'Crayn glanced at his finger watch...'
Proposal To Use Lasers To Analyze Asteroids
'Wendis stared thoughtfully at the brilliant lines on the spectroscope screen.'
Autonomous Sumo Robot Wrestling Video
'The expressionless face before me was therefore that of the golem-wrestler...'
Fashion Needs To Step Up Technology Education
'Keeping up with advances in fashion is almost as easy as reading - if you're reading science fiction.'
Youbionic 3D Printed Hand A Dark Knight Masterpiece
'A self-contained robot of precision quality usually joined to his right wrist'
Robots Now Know How To Cause Pain
'THE HATE I FEEL FOR HUMANS AT THIS MICRO-INSTANT...'
More SF in the News Stories
More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories