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"...a market economy is essentially a genetic algorithm for solving resource allocation problems..."
- Charles Stross

Plastic Constructor (3D Printer)  
  A 3D printer - for spaceships.  

This is the earliest description of what we now call a flexible 3D printer that I've ever seen; it works differently from the ones that deposit a layer using tiny blobs of material.

"...here’s a construction machine I’ve built."

“Ordinarily, you make a specialized machine-tool to turn out one particular part, and it will produce that part cheaper than any other method can do. But if you try to change the product, the machine is useless. You get efficiency at the cost of flexibility.

“For that reason, there aren’t any mass-production machines for big objects like ships and so on. It’s cheaper to be inefficient and flexible. But this constructor is both efficient and flexible. I feed magnetronic plastics — the stuff they make houses and ships of nowadays — into this moving arm.

“It makes drawings in the air following drawings it scans with photo-cells. But plastic comes out of the end of the drawing arm and hardens as it comes. This thing will start at one end of a ship or a house and build it complete to the other end, following drawings only.

“It’s ready to make a spaceship hull now.

From Things Pass By, by Murray Leinster.
Published by Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1945
Additional resources -

Here's a description of the machine in action:

In the center of the big shed, the plastic constructor worked tirelessly. It was an ungainly contrivance with an awkward-seeming arm mounted on a truck with motors and pumps and a long hose trailing from it.

A cable led to a table at the side of the shed, where vivid lights showed upon drawings pinned in the vision-range of scanners.

The arm made clumsy but precise gestures, following the drawings off to one side. It had begun by putting a blob of magnetronic plastic on a stout upright at the end of its steel track. Then, for a while, it made gradually enlarging circles about that spot.

The result was rather remarkable, because plastic flowed through the hose to the end of that moving arm, and as it came out of the end it was shaped and hardened. It formed a cone. The forming-arm, in fact, simply poured out plastic as it described a circle, and the plastic was hardened as it emerged.

A cone resulted when the circles widened, and the arm drew back. The process was exactly that of an insect spinning a cocoon, save that the result was no mass of gummed-together threads, but a solid wall of glass- hard plastic, strong as steel, but vastly lighter. It was, moreover, practically a non-conductor of heat and electricity.

Presently the shape became more complex. The growing object ceased to be merely a cone. Guided by drawings under the harsh light of scanning-lamps, the constructor built on. The cone swelled and curved.

The movements of the moving arm became more complicated. It sealed off the cone with a solid wall. Interior walls started from that. There were openings in some of them. In three hours, fifteen feet of the length of a rounded hull had been made.

Braddick stopped the constructor and fitted items of machinery into place. The constructor took up its task again and sealed the machines in as it built on further. The hull swelled still more. Its interior design became more complicated and more detailed.

The forming object grew more slowly. It took six hours to make the second fifteen feet. But the interior fittings and supplies were in place for all the completed section. From then on, the hull grew more slowly still.

This video shows a prototype device that is an earth-bound version of a plastic constructor. Contour Crafting (CC) is basically a "house printer;" when supplied with the proper instructions, it will "print out" a complete shell of a house. Technovelgy readers should be familiar with the work of Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis from a previous article (see Contour Crafting: 3D House Printer for additional details on how the technique actually works).


(Robotic Contour Crafting Video )

Compare to the idea behind the cosmic express from The Cosmic Express (1930) by Jack Williamson, however, for an early version of 3D printing as part of a teleportation idea. Compare also to Deposition (3D Printing) from Assassin (1978) by James P. Hogan.

Thanks to Eric for submitting this item, with quotes!

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Things Pass By
  More Ideas and Technology by Murray Leinster
  Tech news articles related to Things Pass By
  Tech news articles related to works by Murray Leinster

Plastic Constructor (3D Printer)-related news articles:
  - Contour Crafting: 3D House Printer
  - Sketch Furniture Ultra Rapid Prototyping
  - Contour Crafting House Printer Nears Test
  - 3D Printing Your Winter Reality
  - World's First 3D Printed Villa
  - CreoPop 3D Pen Draws In Midair
  - Protopiper Lets You Sketch Full-Size Objects In Real Space
  - XYZprinting 3D Pen Used, Reviewed By Terrible Artist
  - 3D Cocooner From Festo Spins Web In Mid-Air
  - 3D Printed Dubai Building Is World's Largest

Articles related to Manufacturing
Boring Company Bricks Predicted In 1929
Is It Possible To GROW Planes And Vehicles?
Scaly-Foot Snail Works With Iron
Looms To Manually Weave Lunar Rover Wheels

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