.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Future Imperative

What if technology were being developed that could enhance your mind or body to extraordinary or even superhuman levels -- and some of these tools were already here? Wouldn't you be curious?

Actually, some are here. But human enhancement is an incredibly broad and compartmentalized field. We’re often unaware of what’s right next door. This site reviews resources and ideas from across the field and makes it easy for readers to find exactly the information they're most interested in.


The future is coming fast, and it's no longer possible to ignore how rapidly the world is changing. As the old order changes -- or more frequently crumbles altogether -- I offer a perspective on how we can transform ourselves in turn... for the better. Nothing on this site is intended as legal, financial or medical advice. Indeed, much of what I discuss amounts to possibilities rather than certainties, in an ever-changing present and an ever-uncertain future.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Automating Everything - Remote Manufacturing – The Factory Next Door (Or Down the Hall) - Part 5


Making individual parts for repair is not the only remote-manufacturing option opened up by the above innovations. 3D printers can sinter structures into being from the ground up, CNCs can carve them out of a block of material, and RepRaps can manage multiple aspects of manufacturing. But putting items together made up of multiple parts that must be bolted, nailed, welded or otherwise joined together may take more skill, object recognition and insight than existing programs can supply. Again, limited human intervention can form the bridge that brings these disparate elements together. Remote manufacturing would still involve using existing or downloaded programs to handle most of the labor-intensive work traditionally managed by machines – the 3D scan used as a model by the CNC or 3D printer, for example, or the basic blueprints for the product itself. But with the ability to harness the skills of workers from any location, and have them take control of industrial robots or humanoid robots on site means that even without the intervention of any humans physically present (if any), they could complete the final stages of construction of all items that did not absolutely require a dedicated assembly line designed specifically for that product. And as the above technologies improve, there will be fewer and fewer products meeting that description.

Remember, as CNC and 3D printing technology improve, many brick and mortar stores will be able to house machines that can turn blocks of metal, plastic and other raw materials, or powders or wires of these materials, into very basic products such as screws, bolts, plastic ware, pots and pans, etc. But many other products are just a few pieces put together. For example, a simple hand tool is often just the metal tool with a plastic or wooden handle. The precision of machine automation combined with experienced human oversight makes an increasingly large array of products something that can be produced onsite. Can a tool be completed simply by fastening a 3D-printed plastic handle to a 3D-printed or CNC-carved steel hammer or shovel? How many other products could be thus completed with a single action, or just two or three? And while deploying an experienced worker or expert to every single such job would normally be an unreasonable waste of resources, a remote action takes effectively zero travel time and in a large organization, these tasks can be scheduled and routed through to workers digitally, allowing the simplest and most common actions to happen almost as though each manufactured item were arriving on an assembly line, when it fact it is the worker’s access and awareness which is travelling to find them where they are. Given the flexibility of humanoid robots and similar systems to handle a range of actions, a single robot in the back room of a warehouse or store could have control transferred to several different workers in a row in order to handle a series of jobs. Similarly, if multiple workers with different skills are required to complete a remote manufacturing job, the program could route them in one-by-one in the correct order as they became available until the work was complete. For example, if one person were required to solder internal electrical connections1, another to snap together internal parts or its external housing2 and a third to examine the quality3 of what the first two had accomplished, they would be brought in one at a time to handle their piece. And while they would have full access to any available information relevant to their work, they could go in and out without pause or introduction, allowing common issues to be resolved and common work to be completed as though they had been set on an assembly line that was constantly running everywhere on Earth or above it. In effect, rather than bringing the product from an assembly line, they would be bringing assembly to the product. From the worker’s perspective, instead of having one product after another appear before them on an assembly line, one product after another would appear before them on a VR screen4.

Further, if a step being handled remotely could be easily defined and the actions taken to fulfill it recorded5 – as with learning pendants and lead-by-the-nose techniques – the step could eventually be taken autonomously6 by the robot present when signaled to do so, enabling increasingly complex forms of remote manufacturing by using a standardized set of hands and the record of the steps they used to complete the product.

The above repair and manufacturing options would work for a host of more mundane circumstances – repairs on an assembly line, maintenance on aircraft at a remote airfield, repairs of military vehicles, work on a city government’s motor fleet, and so forth. Constantly falling prices of electronics, steadily improving prices for certain kinds of manufacturing and even the repurposing of some of those older manufacturing robots make this kind of maintenance increasingly sensible – first for operations with the highest demand and lowest supply of excess workers (such as certain remote military bases) and then for an increasingly broad range of organizations on the one hand and for more exotic applications on the other. 

Obviously, the internal version of this system would have to be built into a machine in the first place, but they certainly can be, particularly in items built with an eye towards automating repairs most efficiently. But many machines better suited for the external version are already repaired in garages, hangers or factory floors actually ideal for further, simple modifications where practical considerations outweigh aesthetic considerations. Or to put it another way, it is easier to have the external repair system working in an industrial setting than in a home or office environment, where the improvement in repair efficiency would be outweighed by safety issues and other practical concerns.

Part 1
Part 4
Part 6


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home