Autofabricator, AutoFab

Also known as a fab, nanofab, autofac, nanoforge, or nanofac.

Image from Keith Wigdor and Midjourney AI

Snapshot: Autofabricator 1.0

Pre-Sundering media archive 216.01.22
Authenticity grade: B
Corroboration rating .85

We see a smooth tunnel extending to an upwards-curved horizon. Several humanoids are standing before a thick assemblage of pipes that run its length. A young man in a crisp, white labsuit is attracting attention.

"Welcome, gentlepersons of the media. On behalf of Asimov Orbital, the Nanoscale Collective, and the New Economy Movement I am delighted to demonstrate to you today, our latest triumph in economic engineering. The culmination of mankind's search for ever better tools of manufacture, I give you: the Matter Compiler!"

The man is gesturing to the piping behind him. Status lights are blinking, tiny mechanisms are moving with an audible whir. The machine has been operating for some time before our arrival, but this observation appears unacknowledged by the man. The crowd is partaking in a brief ritual of manipulatory percussion [Historical context: rhythmic display of congratulations/respect].

"If you will all come with me, we can follow the fabrication process."

We are accompanying the man further into the tunnel. The bundle of pipes is thick, comprised of thousands of smaller conduits. It weaves, connects, splits. Our IR implants are registering a significant rise in heat. Also registering increased pumping of coolant in some segments. The man is speaking again, louder now.

"What you're seeing here is the first, general purpose, all-in-one, forge and factory!"

His hands are gesticulating with each point [Historical context: manipulator motions not thought to be coherent language].

"As you will have seen when your shuttle arrived our orbital recently secured an eighty-meter diameter C-type asteroid." Our heads-up-displays project a still image of the rock, held in place by multiple docking claws and wrapped in a plastic membrane.

"In conventional manufacturing raw material from an asteroid first has to be processed in dedicated facilities, refined into pure feedstock." The compiler pipes are thickening. An increasing number bulge from the assembly, the group is ducking and minding their step. The man is continuing.

"Pure feed is then turned into materials in other facilities, before finally ending up in a factory or printer for the final product. Several stages, several machines. The Matter Compiler does it all! That asteroid is being cored by drones as we speak, and the rubble sucked down here."

The group is arriving in a section of much thicker tubes. We can see through a dark window into one, it houses a red-lit chamber. From an array of spouts oily droplets are emerging. They're falling slowly in the low spin. Threads are emerging from the chamber walls, they're combining and shaping the droplets. The chamber temperature is rapidly dropping, larger arms are beginning to sort the now solidifying forms, placing them in exit tubes.

"Over half-way now." The man is calling us on. "By this point almost all of the molecular scale work has been completed. Macroscale products are being processed and assembled from here onward according to a fractal blueprint."

Our HUDs project a public image being broadcast from the Asimovian man's implants. It shows the full ring of the compiler, nesting in its tunnel. Readouts indicate the loop is two hundred meters in radius, suspended in the center of the much larger Asimov orbital. The compiler shifts into schematic form.

"Each segment in the compiler feeds into the next. The gullet takes in crude material, grinding and sorting it. This is passed to the digesters" A complex web of sacks is being highlighted in the centre of the loop, like a hub. Radial spokes link through blocky mechanisms, before connecting to the compiler at various positions. "The products of the digester pass through concentrators that use a variety of physical and chemical techniques to create pure feedstock. This is primarily fed into the nanotier modules."

Another segment has been highlighted; it looks like bundles of needles strapped together. "In this tier of modules an array of proprietary nanofacture techniques assemble any molecular products needed. Of course, there are major arteries that bypass to later tiers when this level of engineering is not required" Several pipes of varying sizes are flashing, many bulge out from the compiler just as often as they dive into it.

"You saw the beginnings of the macroscale assembly, each chamber from here builds closer to final product assembly. The fractal staging of the compiler maximizes the surface area we can construct from. It might not be the fastest form of production, but it is the most versatile and efficient. Of course, we have Next Generation designs in the simulators that could bring the space requirement way down." Our HUD is showing images of spiral and Mandelbulb configurations, we cannot recover a clear snapshot [Historical context: high resolution perceptions erased by NDAware]. The group has lapsed into small talk. It appears we are near the beginning of the loop. The man is stopping by a large door in the compiler housing.

"Thank you so much for indulging me and agreeing to share our revolutionary machine with the system. As a thank you for being such dedicated individuals in the pursuit of information, please accept these complementary personal servitors."

Again a crowd is engaging in manipulatory percussion, now at faster and more chaotic tempos. The door on the compiler is opening. Beyond I see an alcove. There is a line of vecs [Historical context: Goldwing Series X Adjunct series. Authenticity C, Corroboration 59%]. They're showing residual heat, transient chemical smell. HUD is displaying an invite to complete a loyalty circuit. A vec is approaching us.

Log Ends.

Autofabricators are a ubiquitous class of manufacturing machine that can be programmed to build virtually any normal-matter product from simple chemical feedstock. Throughout history, and across myriad cultures, there have been a plethora of names for this technology; some acting as direct synonyms whilst others refer to specific variants. Briefly, the most common are: fabricator (fab/autofab), nanofactory (nanofac/autofac), nanoforge (forge), universal assembler, Genie, Home Fab, Santa Claus Machine, and Drexler. Autofabricators specialised for a specific range of products are named with an appropriate prefix, e.g mealfabs for food production and smatterforge for smart matter. Whatever the name used these tools have been the backbone of Terragen industry for nearly ten thousand years, from household units to megascale factories.

Fabs differ greatly according to size, intended function, and level of technology. A typical fab is a self-contained appliance internally divided into a hierarchy of cellular compartments that range from nano- to macroscale dimensions. Each cell contains a specialised manufacturing system within an appropriate environment (liquid, gas, vacuum etc). At the smallest level this may consist of molecular tool-tips designed to make or break specific chemical bonds. At the macroscale, omnitools can affix, weld, forge, or otherwise assemble the final product. Vascular networks and smart matter membranes transport power, coolant, feedstock, and partially constructed components from cell to cell. In operation smaller cells synthesise parts (through chemical/mechanochemical means) that are transported to larger cells to be modified or combined with other parts. This process repeats until the final product is put together in the largest chamber and extruded from the machine.

Most fab designs are capable of operating in dissembler-mode. Objects placed in these fabs are analysed by the unit to determine the safest disassembly protocol; the material is typically then ground down by larger cells before being passed to smaller cells for digestion, ultimately resulting in processed feedstock for mattercache storage. Specialised disassembly units are often called "recyclers".

Image from Bernd Helfert

The product range of a fab depends on its intended purpose; the more specialised a unit is, the more efficient it will be at creating specific products (though non-fab specialised machines will almost always be faster/more efficient). For example; mealfabs are a feature of many biont's kitchens, and many vecs keep a unit that can produce spare parts or power units. Industrial fabs are typically specialised too, since versatility brings a cost in efficiency. Factory complexes satisfying megascale demand are often organised as a three dimensional sprawl of specialised fabs in all shapes and sizes. Dense networks of flostone conveyors, utility lines and gelbots are used for component transport and assembly.

In other cases specialised fabs are used to produce product in situ. This is particularly common on infrastructure projects for bridges, buildings and other fixed constructs. In these cases mobile fabs arrive on site, spread over the assembly area and grow the product directly. Specialised fabs are still regarded as a class of fabricator if they retain the ability to return to a generalist form. This despecialisation usually requires a significant amount of time, energy and material.

Autofab production efficiency greatly depends on the toposophic level of its designer. Under ideal conditions modosophont fabricators have a construction rate equal to 10% of the fabricator's mass per hour. The more complex an item is (i.e. the greater number of smaller, specialised cells involved in its manufacture) the slower it will be produced and vise versa. Typical domestic fabs mass 100kg and are a cubic meter when fully extended. By collapsing all assembly chambers fabricators can collapse down to a tenth of their size, for convenient storage and transport. If quality feedstock and sufficient power are not available, such as is the case with field units, production rates can slow significantly.

The smallest modosophont universal fabricators mass one kilogram. Smaller fabs than this are inevitably specialised, with narrower libraries of products and more specific feedstock requirements. In circumstances where mass is expensive, small specialised fabs are often used to grow sporetech which can later give rise to universal fabricators. Larger fabs or multiple fabs working in tandem can significantly speed up product construction time, albeit with diminishing returns due to the limits of final product assembly and optimal task parallelisation. Once diminishing returns have been met additional fabricators only help with larger batch sizes. Industrial fabs with very high production rates often have synthesis cells and transport systems large enough for many sophonts to walk through abreast.

Transapient designs have been observed to produce orders of magnitude more product per hour by utilising superior quantum levitation, laser cooling, and plasma quench technologies. In addition, ultratech fabs can operate in configurations beyond a self-contained appliance. Transapient bushbot swarms can be characterised as a collection of "inside-out" fabs, capable of performing all manner of chemical alterations and manufacturing using their external limbs. Managing this feat whilst maintaining a high degree of production and a low error/failure rate is beyond modosophont science or understanding (though some argue this is an example of low-ground ultratech and it will only be a matter of time before modosophont technology catches up).

Image from Bernd Helfert

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Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev; modified and expanded by Stephen Inniss, Todd Drashner and Ryan_B (2016)
Snapshot by Ryan B (Rynn)
Initially published on 03 November 2001.