Processing and manufacturing also has a long history of automation with wind and water driving many labour saving devices for over a thousand years. We have made flour or drawn up water without human labour, except for the construction and maintenance of the devices, with the use of windmills and watermills. These replaced the laborious task of moving water or grinding grain and ultimately lead to the development of the automated loom that helped kick start the industrial revolution. Since then it has been a steady progression of creating new tools, powered by new energy sources, to replace more and more laborious tasks. Advances in automation have often involved a lot of research and development followed by expensive initial outlay for equipment but the benefits have, more often than not, provided increased performance with less human hours worked. From power tools to machine shops, from conveyor belts to sorting machines almost every part of the process has been improved by some level of automation and it increases every year. Automation has also come to the foundries and raw material processing plants with control systems that increase the quality and speed of turning the raw elements into more useful and consistent chunks of materials that can then be manufactured into products. It seems unlikely we would have enough materials for our current lifestyles without the current levels of automation in processing and manufacturing plants. Where conveyor belts move tons of raw materials between processing units, sensors and control systems improve throughput and a host of sensors monitor the whole system. You would need a very large portion of the population to compete with the tons of raw materials processed by the mostly automated plants we have today. The humans that are involved in these places are the ones that build them, maintain them or monitor them for unexpected problems. Even these jobs are getting automated too with better sensors, construction robots and AI systems. Both the processing of raw materials and the manufacturing of products are mainly a series of repetitive tasks that are repeated as quickly as possible. This is an easy thing to automate. Throughout history it’s played out that as soon as a machine can perform one of these jobs cheaper than a previous machine or replace some humans that used to do the job, then the new machine takes over. The reason we have not seen the full automation revolution yet is because the price of labour has been reduced by moving it around the world to where it’s cheapest. The upcoming revolution, that we are just about to enter, is where robot automation becomes cheaper than any form of human labour. If you can buy a robot that will replace a human, cost less than paying the human for one year, can work 24/7 all year and has minimal maintenance costs or down-time. Well it will be hard for any corporation to justify paying out for staff rather than invest in the machinery. We are already starting to see one of the changes this is bringing. At the moment we have hot-spots of manufacturing in places like China because that is where the labour is cheap and plentiful. There are some companies that are starting to move away from needing this kind of labour and building local manufacturing plants nearer where the demand is. This happens when a supply of well educated professionals to keep a heavily automated plant ticking over is more important than cheap manual labour. This will probably lead to communities having smaller local manufacturing facilities that supply the local demand rather than mega-factories building things for the whole world in some remote place. Ultimately these will use robots within the local units to make any product needed. Supply this facility with the right processed raw materials and the manufacturing plant will make anything you want. It’s not going to be long before these fully automated manufacturing plants are cheaper to make and run than employing a building full of people to do the same job. "The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment." Warren G. Bennis To start with these fully automated manufacturing plants will need a few humans to keep them running but soon they will be robust enough to last a long time before breaking. Manufacturing is one industry where reliability is important. If part of your production line breaks you stop making products/money instantly. You have to fix it as soon as possibly. So a lot of effort will be put into making these new plants durable. Then you only have one last repetitive task to automate and that’s repairing anything that goes wrong. The things that will go wrong are likely to be fixed by swapping out one unit for another to get you back up and running as quickly as possible. It’s yet another part of the process where robots that repair equipment would be advantageous. In the mining industry they want this to replace workers going to remote and dangerous places while in the manufacturing industry it will be more important to be faster and better than a human doing the job. These new manufacturing plants are more likely to be modular than a fixed production line. Like having an array of 3D printers, a few computer chip making boxes, some robot assemblers, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines and such things. Not just one or two of them but rows of them with robots moving things from one machine to the next till the manufacturing is complete. Ideally these will have built in redundancy so it’s never running at 100%. Then if something breaks it’s probably going to be a case of swap out that module for a new one and the failures will have less of an impact on production. A robot that removes a broken manufacturing unit and swaps it with a new one seems quite easy to get working even by today’s standards. Then the broken part can be analysed, new parts made on site if needed, repaired and then becomes another spare part for when the next thing breaks. Like a giant inkjet printer, as long as you keep the raw material tanks full you can turn that into any product you like. So eventually you get to the point where the unprocessed raw materials, which have cost nothing to get, are processed without needing humans and delivered to one of these automated manufacturing plants by a self-driving truck. Then you can turn that into the product needed with the only costs being the power consumed. If you can power these plants off renewable sources and build your own robots to maintain the plant, then you are manufacturing without cost. Put this product into a self-driving van and take it to the customer and you have just delivered one product that cost you nothing to make… Well after you have made back the investment cost of setting it all up. Once you have set up this small automated plant, you can set aside some of the time to manufacture the parts needed to make a carbon copy of itself and then you can scale up your manufacturing output for no extra cost. How much time you dedicate to this will determine how quick that turnaround is. If you can have one manufacturing unit that can make all the parts needed to create another unit within a week. Then let it spend all of its first operational month doing just that before switching to producing other products. Your first unit will makes four other unit in that first month. You do the same trick with the four new units and you then have 24 of them. Within a few years you can cover the planet with them. All they will need is a steady supply of raw materials and an electrical source. There is even the potential to run them on solar only when it’s sunny. If you have more manufacturing capacity than is needed you won’t need to run them 24/7 and could just run them when the environmental conditions are good enough to power it. Or slow production by only running 40% of the machines when the sunshine is 40% off it’s peak. Though as I said in the mining chapter, eventually most manufacturing will be done in space. Once we start mining in space and have raw materials there, then we will just take one of these local manufacturing units into space. Where you can set them up at the optimal distance from the sun to get the most out of uninterrupted solar energy. In space you can float out solar panels as big as you need to generate enough power and your only limiting factor is how quickly you can get raw materials to these units. Like how they could spread on Earth, you could get them making the things they need to get the raw materials they need, then make copies of themselves. Their copies do the same. A few decades after that we could be building huge spaceships in space that can take 100,000s of people on a trip or construct huge biospheres all over the solar system. You can already get a 3D printer that can print most of the parts you need to make a copy of it’s self and at some point we will get a manufacturing plant that can do the same. Build the robots that construct buildings and install the electrical system. Build the renewable generation systems and wire to transport the energy. Build the batteries and other storage devices. Build the machines that make stuff and the robots that move things around. Maybe even build the vehicles that transport things to and from there. Once you have full automation everything becomes so cheap you can do just about anything. Chapter Four: Putting it all together.