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A Primitive Replicator

on Jun 22, 2017

If you think about cheap modular manufacturing spreading around the world, it is very similar in essence to what the Replicator makes possible in the fictional future of "Star Trek": i.e. Instant, cheap, local production of goods on demand.

Fictional technologies are much easier to build than real ones, but the international maker movement has shown the way: ordinary people can make their own stuff, and some of that stuff is very high tech.

So imagine: fractional ownership in your local manufacturing array, this provides income while over a few years the cost of goods fall dramatically.

The cost of goods falling means your payments from this fractional ownership buy more each year.

Why would they fall? If recycling plays an increasing role the materials should be a little cheaper each time they are used, techniques for designing for recycling will make re-using the materials easier over time, the technology of the manufacturing machines will become more refined, distributed manufacturing will mean things are made where their needed, so shipping will play a lesser role in their cost and carbon footprint.

The modular design of the machines means they could make parts for more machines, but as more and more designs become available an increasing array of things could be made: parts and tools of course, but also arrays of tissue printers for medical use, if you can print tissue, you could produce "ethical meat", and replace the fast food burger place with automated restaurants (lookup "momentum machines") and of course mirrors and motion controllers for heliostats (solar thermal power) increasingly efficient recycling equipment, automated woodworking (cheap decent quality furniture) and when someone downloads an object you've designed, the machines themselves could pay you a royalty (in BTC, or ETH, or LTC, etc) the machines could begin to buy and order the materials not on hand, automating the admin as well.

The 21st Century replicator looks like this:

CubeSpawnArray.jpg (1200x675)This is the 8 Prototype Machines at various stages of completion.

The machines consist of an Electrical Module (the thin tray at the top of the bottom 4 machines and the top left one)

This contains (for now) a Raspberry Pi, or BeagleBone, or Something else... + a power supply, motion control boards, a small Ethernet switch and so on...

The bottom "Mechanical Module" contains the moving part of the machine (small Lathe, Mill, Circuit board router, 3D printer, spot welder, Robot etc)

In front of these machines, there will be a line of cubes with "Pallet Movers" to transport work-pieces, pallets, and fixtures between the cubes. (essentially a series of short smart conveyors for an automated loading robot.

These machines are small (600mm) but the design scales up to 1.2 meter and down to 300mm with long term plans to scale much further on the smaller and smaller side. (tunnel to nanoscale)

There are many challenges, but open source can incrementally whittle them away. All the major parts of the control software already exist in several projects (Octoprint, Machinekit, ROS) the communications protocol/State machine architecture (MTConnect), Digital Template files/protocol (STEP_NC) Distributed Internet (ZeroNet) payment and rewards system (cryptocurrencies) and open source ERP tools make this an integration and testing effort rather than requiring the control system be built from scratch.

It all makes me eternally optimistic!!

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Disintermediating the Monopolists

on Jun 22, 2017

It would be easy to overlook what a decentralized manufacturing system could do: and simply react with Oh look! more machines... Yawn!!

But, if you follow this idea a little further, it leads to a general shift in how things get done:

If every community produced most of its technology products locally, then you would need much more in the way of local materials...

Which, as it turns out, are already there: in the form of discarded materials.

Recycling can provide a significant part of the raw materials that a community needs, (estimated at 85%) especially plastics and metals, this lowers the need for shipping, and cleans up local waste, plus if cash is not flowing out of a community to buy goods, the local community retains more of its wealth.

The price of goods should begin to fall to material and energy costs, (Zero Marginal cost) which is much cheaper than current products with the price of labor and freight built in to their costs, plus the environmental costs that are typically not paid.

So, if by doing some manufacturing, a town, or village can clean up its trash, make things locally, from digital templates, then the only remaining piece of the puzzle is energy: solar thermal is the cheapest form of alternative energy in many places, wood gasifiers follow a close second, both are better suited to smaller communities rather than cities where alternative energy can be sourced from utilities as they adopt it for economic reasons.

When a small group of people have manufacturing resources and can download new machine designs, costs are much lower, not just for the machines, but also for the technology (Templates) to recycle materials and generate power, if widely adopted, the cost of goods should begin to fall toward zero. This will empower ordinary people and dis-empower centralized industry (the 1%) since as more people quit buying from central suppliers, their money, (and therefore power and influence) will decrease.

You cannot hoard wealth if no-one needs to buy your product, decentralized manufacturing removes the biggest monopoly there is.

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CubeSpawn 1st post

on Jun 22, 2017

CubeSpawn is an Open Source project to build a small, affordable, bench-top scale manufacturing system out of modular parts.​​​​​​​CubeSpawnwDiagram.jpg (1025x604)

This is the Software architecture diagram:

SystemDiagram1.png (1600x900)

and I am now looking at what a private "ZeroNet" would look like - it would be as good as any VPN I can think of and you could preload the member machines to facilitate them finding peers in the relevant space. Most Interesting!!

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