I’ll get back to self-assembly and related topics soon, but at the moment, I’d like to show more about how macroscale manufacturing works today. There are strong analogies to engineering problems that will arise when a technology base is in place for building complex nanomachines, and I hope that even readers from manufacturing-oriented engineering cultures will enjoy thinking about familiar systems in this context.
In recent posts, I showed some high-throughput manufacturing processes, including videos of fast machines making small parts and of continuous-flow assembly machines that put small parts together with blurring speed. Products pour out fast, without a robot in sight. Somewhere on the spectrum between these fast, simple machines and slow, complex industrial robots are machines like the ones shown in the following video.
The first scenes show how parts are organized for assembly by blind, senseless machines: Feed machines extract parts from jumbled heaps, orient them, and send them on their way in single file. Each feed machine has only one key moving part: a bowl with cleverly shaped ramps and barriers — no machine vision systems, no robotic grippers. There are rough analogies between this and processes for organizing feedstock molecules for atomically precise nanomanufacturing.
The rest of the video shows how the parts get assembled:
In manufacturing, it makes sense to use fast, simple machines to make and assemble abundant, simple parts, then to use slower, more complex machines to put somewhat larger and more complex parts together, and, finally, to use fully programmable robotic mechanisms for short production runs and large, customized products. This principle is fully applicable to both macroscale and nanoscale processes; the numbers, sizes, and rates are different, but the pattern is the same.
Bonus videos: A fully programmable robotic positioner with an unusual geometry, high speed, and micron accuracy:
And here’s design based on similar principles, billed as the World’s Fastest Robot:
A device of this kind built at one-millionth this scale would execute moves at several megahertz. If you haven’t already seen it, you may enjoy the nanofactory video.
High-Throughput Nanomanufacturing: Small Parts (with videos)
High-Throughput Nanomanufacturing: Assembly (with videos)
The Physical Basis of Atomically Precise Manufacturing