In a post about molecular assembly lines, I discussed non-ribosomal (hence non-programmable) peptide synthetases, a form of specialized molecular manufacturing machinery found in some cells, and added that
In the molecular-manufacturing architecture described in Nanosystems, simple assembly-line mechanisms — not elaborate, programmable machines — perform the overwhelming majority of fabrication operations.
Actually, the term “assembly line” isn’t quite right to describe the class of hard-machine systems that I analyzed in Nanosystems. The overwhelming majority of fabrication operations would be performed by machines like those that make the parts that are fed into an assembly line.
In the US, factory automation is a foreign subject to most people, so earlier today I spent some time searching for videos that vividly show how really high-throughput automated manufacturing works, since the same principles will apply to high-throughput nanomanufacturing. As a starter, I chose this YouTube video; the title is “How to make a bolt”, and it’s set to music:
Now, picture a robot making bolts. The ratio of cost and speed would be…?
Where molecular assembly is concerned, the way to achieve high throughput and efficiency is by using simple, repetitive operations (and these can be extremely reliable, despite thermal fluctuations). Any operation that requires computation would be far to slow and expensive — we live in a world where machines are huge compared to the circuitry in a microprocessor. In the nanoworld, it will be the digital computing systems that are huge compared to the machines. This is why machines of the general sort in the video — fast and brainless — will become essential.
The video above shows metal forming; in a later post I’ll show fast parts orientation and assembly. By the way, when I say the machines in the videos are “fast”, it’s worth keeping in mind that analogous nanoscale machinery for nanomanufacturing will be much faster. Basic mechanical scaling laws raise the natural operating frequencies by roughly a factor of a million.
If you’d like to see more, here’s a narrated video showing machines making a wider range of small parts:
And here’s a short video showing machines making complex shapes by executing very simple motions. The secret is in the tools:
More time, more complex, high precision: the manufacture and assembly of ball bearings: