Image from Bernd Helfert

An autofab is also known as a fab, nanofab, autofac, nanoforge, or nanofac. It is a nanotech fabrication unit for creating finished products from raw materials. This type of device is ubiquitous in the Terragen Sphere.

An autofab is typically a self-contained device or appliance. A typical unit has input ports or slots for raw materials, an output slot or door for the finished product, and an interface for instructions and programming. It is usually dependent on connections to the local power grid and feedstock lines, though field units with an internal power source and the ability to create their own feedstocks from locally available materials are also known. Units may be anything from a few micrometres to several kilometres across, depending on their purpose. The sealed working area of the unit contains a set of controlled environments that support, power and supply the unit's nanites and microbots. The whole is directed by a powerful, though usually subsentient, program.

The range of an autofab depends on its purpose and its size. For instance, small specialized food-grade autofabs are a feature of many biont's kitchens, and many vecs have an autofab that can produce spare parts but little else. Industrial autofabs are typically specialized units too, since versatility brings a cost in efficiency. However, a sufficiently large and sophisticated autofab, given enough power, the right programs, a supply of the necessary elements, and sufficient time, approaches the theoretical ideal of a universal constructor, and can build almost any item that consists of normal matter (exotic matter such as magmatter is beyond the capability of an autofab), including a copy of itself, either by producing the material or item directly in its construction chambers or by creating synsects and other bots that carry out the necessary work outside the autofab itself.
Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev; modified and expanded by Stephen Inniss

Initially published on 03 November 2001.