If you wanted to use automation to assemble an enormous number of small things, would you use robots? For throughput in the 100 ms/cycle, million-product-per-day range, a room full of robots waving their arms around might not be the best solution. A manufacturing engineer is more likely to think of using a machine like the one in the video below, shown as it assembles spray-pump parts at a rate of 500 parts per minute. Watching the first 30 seconds is enough, unless you fall in love with the machine’s rugged elegance:
In watching this, please keep in mind that the dynamics of macroscale machinery processing ~10 parts per second corresponds roughly to the dynamics of nanoscale machinery processing ~10 million parts per second. This is a consequence of elementary physical scaling laws and is the basis for the potentially high productivity of advanced nanomanufacturing.
In my previous post, I presented videos that show high-throughput systems making metal parts, and explained why manipulation of matter at the smallest scales, in the first stages of atomically precise high-throughput nanomanufacturing, should follow similar principles of operation, using sequences of stages that each perform simple, repetitive, high-frequency motions. The video above shows how the same basic principle is used to perform the basic quantum of assembly, putting two parts together.
Looking ahead to a time when we become competent at making roughly analogous nanoscale machinery, as physics promises we can, how could we use that sort of machinery in high-throughput nanomanufacturing to make products large enough to see, like a computer, car, or spacecraft? The basic idea is simple: Use simple high-throughput mechanisms to put parts together to make larger parts, then iterate, putting these together to make even larger parts, a process termed convergent assembly. A sequence of 100 pairwise assembly operations can span the gap between nanometer scale building blocks and multi-ton products.
As assemblies become larger, though, it makes sense begin using more complex machinery, as we see in ordinary factories. Simple machines pour out identical bolts, but a car is valuable enough to merit the cost and complexity of computer-controlled assembly and customization — and even the application of human hands and minds.
Here’s a video that shows more continuous-flow assembly machinery, and gives a glimpse of the process that extracts a stream of oriented parts from a jumbled heap:
You may notice similarities between these mechanisms and those shown in the nanomanufacturing video below, “Productive Nanosystems: From Molecules to Superproducts”. This is no coincidence. The animator, John Burch, is a trained mechanical engineer.
- High-Throughput Nanomanufacturing: Small Parts (with videos)
- Assembling larger products (with videos)
- The Physical Basis of Atomically Precise Manufacturing
- Why I hate “nanobots”