Manufacturing technology in the Current Era is dominated by syntech assemblers capable of creating a wide variety of products through molecular assembly. However this does not mean that macroscopic manufacturing is no longer in use, far from it; automated factories which utilize advanced macroscopic fabrication techniques are quite common.
|This Steamfac on Fairway, Argelander Plexus uses Industrial Age technology to manufacture heavy goods; the Steamfac also produces carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and assists atmospheric warming on this cool world
This is due to that fact that a specialized factory, properly tooled, can create a specific product much faster than even a large general purpose nanofabricator. However most of these factories still use nanotechnology and smart materials for their construction and maintenance (many modern factories started out as wide spectrum autofabs that were later hyper specialized for a specific purpose). Molecular disassemblers and modern feedstock distribution technology is also used for raw material processing as it is far more efficient than other methods.
One unusual type of factory which totally lacks modern molecular assembler technology is known as a Mega Factory (megafac). Often considered a type of anachrotech by some, or an inefficient novelty by more cynical observers, a megafac is an enormous expandable general purpose factory that can build virtually any product so long as the product is not hitech.
In order to function megafacs produce not only useful goods and services but spare parts, additional mobile construction bots, and manufacturing and industrial materials specifically for the purposes of maintaining, expanding, modifying and eventually replicating the mega factory.
These constructs are capable of providing an industrial base up to information age middle technology if that is what the operators' desire.
Description A mega factory is initially a large construct called a seed roughly 125 meters on a side that contains a central computer with a large archive of products and industrial processes, a power source of some kind (ranging from deployable solar panels to a small fission reactor), an automated metal forge and machine shop, a miniature computer chip lithographer, and an array of chemical synthesizers and small reactors. The modules have at least partial generalist capabilities, the chemical plant for example is designed to produce a small array of the most useful chemicals for bootstrapping the mega factory seed such as basic polymers, acids etc. While the automated machine shop can work with many materials such as metal, wood or even stone.
Megafactories are often used by ludds, hobbyists, and any other group that refuses to use nanofabrication technology. Because they lack the flexibility of fabs, such as the ability to easily obtain elemental feedstock with minimum bulk, they tend to be used in in conjunction with additional bots or modosophonts workers during setup in order to speed the bootstrapping process up as well as provide redundancy; this aspect also makes them more common in certain NoCoZo policies.
A megfac seed can be built be various means, some are nanofabricated (ironically), but most are constructed by other established megafacs. Until it develops the seed can only create small amounts of essential products and technologies, and these abilities are better suited to building more capital for the megafac rather than serving even a modest population.
Even once partially expanded a megafac is only capable of creating a limited number of products of limited material complexity. If the operators of the megafac only need it to build large qualities of relatively simple products, then the megafac will halt its attempt to generalize its production abilities at a certain threshold; only constructing a sub factory for building spare parts.
Such a factory may even downgrade its capabilities further in order to make it easier for its systems to create replacement tools and apparatus, or it might even become permanently dependent on external assistance such as modosophont labor and maintenance.
A relatively well known example of a factory used in such a matter is a unit locally known as The Grand Whittler on the NoCoZo world of Dorminy IV-B-a. This mega factory is over 5 kilometers on a side and is devoted entirely to the creation of elaborate wooden artwork such as sculptures. It receives wood from various modosophonts that its mysterious owner hires out. Sculptures and artworks created using wood and carved with mechanical tools fetch a good price on the export market. No one has ever seen the owner and a popular local legend is that the owner is in fact the sophont AI overseer of The Grand Whittler complex, a sophont which has taken its wood carving hobby to the greatest of extremes.
It is far more common for a megafac to continue to grow its capabilities in order to serve as a general purpose industrial base for its users. In order to do this the megafac needs to construct additional infrastructure in order to collect resources, refine them into useful materials, and then build more robotic workers and advanced industrial apparatus. In order to save space many machines will have generalist abilities, although without the benefits of nanotechnology this can only be taken so far. Large metal forges, sprawling chemical plants, bioreactors, lithographic microchip fabrication centers, automated assembly lines and transportation networks all eventually spring from a megafac given enough time and resources. Eventually the primary complex can become many kilometers on a side.
Once the factory has expanded enough it will be able to deploy mobile assets such as automated construction equipment and bots for the users of the factory to do with as they wish, as well as satellite facilities many of which will be more specialized, such as mining sites and hubs for transporting materials to and from the main factory and other sites.
The disadvantages of a mega factory is that this system is uses large amounts of space and has all of the problems of middle tech manufacturing methods, such as being inefficient in energy and producing problematic amounts of waste. A mega factory can produce additional infrastructure for the purpose of recycling and better waste management but this will require yet more volume and complexity. Some of these problems can be effectively managed with carefully planned economic models.
Variants Some mega factories deliberately have production capabilities below middle tech in some aspects. This is usually done for cultural reasons if a certain polity or clade has an aversion to the aesthetics of certain aspects of middle tech industry, or in other cases an unusual romanticism about it. These constructs can no longer be considered universal factories and are usually used to increase the quality of life for ludds without having to resort to more advanced technology.
The Ecofac: This variant of the mega factory is designed to create products and infrastructure that use limited energy and make use of resources that are easily replenished on a world capable of sustaining a biosphere. Many will use solar energy as their primary power source and will often use natural materials such as wood, base metal, ceramic and stone for constructing products. The Ecofac is well known for building attractive constructs such as energy efficient subterranean homes, solar mirror heated metal forges, plots of vast and multifunctional polyculture, large pneumatic tubes and long conveyer belts for the bulk transport of materials, and hybrid transport networks that often use a combination of electric, gravity, water, and even muscle power for locomotion. Indeed the only modern technology this factory will produce is usually the spare materials needed to repair its critical systems.
The Steamfac: This eccentric factory variant is known for using infrastructure powered by steam or internal combustion engines and the direct mechanical transmission of energy as opposed to widespread electrification. This type of factory makes intensive use of fossil fuels such as petroleum, but if that is unavailable biomass is also used in order to power steam machinery. The Steamfac does make use of some modern materials in order to avoid some of the hazards of high pressure steam and combustible fuels, these materials also make devices smaller allowing them to be less obstructive versus historical examples of similar technology. An extensive system of steam powered locomotives is also a common fixture of a society using a Steamfac as its industrial base.
Text by Rhea47
Initially published on 06 December 2018.