The “Seed” part of a Seed Factory is a starter kit of automated machines. They can help make useful products, and in addition make some of the parts to copy themselves, add new types of machines to the factory, or make larger versions of what they already have. A starter kit will not be able to make every kind of part or use every kind of material. Whatever it cannot make itself will have to be supplied from outside. As the factory grows over time, it can make more items internally, and need fewer items from outside sources. So where does the starter kit come from, and what is in it?
The design of the starter kit depends on the mature factory you want it to grow into. That includes where it will be built, who will operate it, and what products it will make. We have identified four kinds of mature end-points so far: Community Factory, Industrial Factory, Distributed Production Network, and Remote Locations. For each of these, we will identify smaller growth steps between starter and mature, and then what new machines need to be built in each step. If you already have lots of automated factories, you can feed them the designs for a starter kit, and have it produced and delivered ready to start work. However, that does not work for the first Seed Factory. To build that first one, you need to use conventional tools. So our project will be setting up a location with conventional workshop tools, where we can build and test prototype versions of the machines, and them make the designs available for other people to use.
Our designs are not finished yet, so we cannot say for certain what will be in a given starter kit. We do have a preliminary list of items that are strong candidates, though. That list is based on satisfying the basic factory functions, and flexibility to do multiple tasks. We will describe these machines in more detail in later articles, but the current list and what they are used for is as follows:
(1) Solar Furnace – A concentrating solar furnace can supply heat to generate electricity, and for a wide variety of industrial processes that need heating. In general you will have several such furnaces for different jobs, but the targets at the focus are designed to be swapped out to change jobs as needed.
(2) Modular Robotics – This consists of sets of mobile vehicles, robot arms, and detachable tools and implements. In combination they can do the same variety of jobs that farm tractors, construction machines, and factory robots can do. The robot arms can also be installed in stationary locations or moving gantries within a factory.
(3) Process Plant – Many products need physical or chemical changes made to the raw materials. This “machine” consists of simple modular units that perform one task each (grinding, mixing, drying, etc.), and flexible connectors between them to move items from one step to the next. As a whole, the process plant can be programmed with a “recipe” for a given product.
(4) Bridge Mill – This is one of three basic parts-making machines. A bridge mill moves a horizontal beam (the bridge) vertically, while a sliding table moves forward and back underneath, and a tool head moves sideways across the bridge. This gives three axes of motion (XYZ). In our design, the tool head can be swapped out to do different things (milling, 3D printing, etc.)
(5) Lathe – This machine rotates the workpiece with a powered spindle, and then a tool is applied to it. Lathes are most useful making round parts. Our version has a 4-rail bed. The main spindle and workpiece supports are over one pair of rails, while different types of tool holders slide along the second parallel pair.
(6) Hydraulic Press – This consists of lower and upper slotted plates for mounting a variety of attachments, sturdy posts at the corners for the upper plate to slide along and keep it parallel to the bottom plate, and one or more powerful hydraulic cylinders to drive the upper plate down. The attachments allow molding, shearing, rolling, bending, and shaping.
(7) Electrical Shop – Many products need electrical and electronic parts. This “machine” consists of devices to produce circuit boards and electrical chassis, and then robotic installation of a variety of parts from inventory.
(8) Modular Building – The building provides protection from weather for most of the other machines, plus storage and assembly areas. It also includes gantries and cranes for moving heavy items, and utilities connections. Since the factory will be expanding, the building is modular so it can be easily added to.