- The origins start with the combination of the mechanical manufacturing processes with automated control mechanisms. For the Solomani, this was the Jacquard loom, for the Vilani, this was Shurdarguu.
- In modern terms, the initial automation of manufacturing occurs at TL–4.
An automated factory is a labor-saving device capable of simple manufacturing in earlier forms and much more complex and truly automated versions with higher technology bases.
At TL–7 with the introduction of high speed computing systems and development of robotic arms we see some dramatic steps toward an automated factory. Many manufacturing processes can be automated, and are, which replaces sophont labor with computer controlled robotic arms. These factories are limited to manufacturing one item, requiring refit and reprogramming to change the manufacturing process.
An outgrowth of Computer Aided Design (CAD) technology at TL–7 and beyond is Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). The process uses a precisely controled set of mechanical cutters to carve a solid block of material into the precise shape required. One example is GC-2 machining system. The CAM process is enhanced at TL–9 by the addition of laser cutters to the purely mechanical ones used in earlier machines. This improves accuracy of the parts and increases the speed of operation. At TL–10, the physical clamp for these machines is replaced by a Grav clamp and set of repulsors to stabilize and rotate the working material. The final evolution of the cutting machine design occurs at TL–11 with the addition of the meson beam cutter, utilizing a short range meson accelerator to carve voids and internal structures where previously it would be difficult to do so.
The next phase of development is a TL–8 3D printer. This device uses either a liquid or powdered plastic which is congealed or melted using a point heating element or a laser. This builds an object layer by layer until completed. One of the refinements of this technique culminate in the use of Physical vapor deposition, building layers of individual atoms on a single object.
At TL–10 this vapor building process become the standard for construction of many parts. It is a required part of the manufacture of Crystaliron and Superdense. By TL–11, the standard manufacturing process for most electronics uses the vapor deposition process, being the only manner to produce the 3-dimensional layout required for the high speed parallel processing CPU and memory chips.
The types of objects manufactured are limited by the handling of the materials used in the construction. The vapor deposition turns the source material into a plasma, even if briefly, in a vacuum chamber to form layers of material. The manner of processing precludes the generation of organic materials, including plastics.
At TL–12 experimental CHNO (Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Oxygen) atomic scale manufacturing tools are developed. Using a cold join process and atomic scale scaffolding, the system theoretically builds any organic material capable of being modeled. The process is slow and for the larger proteins very error prone. The process remains a laboratory tool, superseded in the industrial sector by more traditional methods of generating organics.
Around TL–11 nano-scale assembly of molecules from base materials starts to be developed. This technology builds the parts from those molecules. While very convenient, the process is very time intensive as the material is deposited at about a micrometer per minute. While this is reasonable for semiconductor electronics, it is impractical for structural components.
The combination of these technologies is thought to occur around TL–16, as a part is moved back-and-forth from the reduction or machining process and the deposition process volume. The apocalypse package is a prototype of this combination.
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