5.0 - Community Factory

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This section (5.0 and the following pages) and the notes in section 9.0 comprise an extensive example in how to start a Seed Factory design. It is an "example by doing" of an actual proposed project, and not just a theoretical textbook example. It follows the design concepts and process described earlier in the book to start developing a Community Factory. The Conceptual Design developed here is the first stage of a design project. That stage starts with a general set of needs and goals and ends with a complete system concept. That concept identifies the major parts of the system, their general size, configuration, and technology, and how the system would be operated and maintained. The objective in this design stage is to demonstrate overall feasibility of the project, and the ability to meet the intended design requirements. Following this stage would be preliminary and then detailed design. The latter ends with design files ready for production. The design is incomplete at present, so the details in the book only represent what has been done so far.


Concept Summary[edit]

We start with a summary of the purpose and main features of the Community Factory. The following pages and sections then follow the steps in the design process.


  • Purpose - The Community Factory is intended to deliver most of the basic food, shelter, and utility needs for an owner/operator community of 660 people in the vicinity of Atlanta, GA. The "Community" in the project name refers to it serving a local community, and that most of the outputs go directly to the owners. The factory design is likely to be too big and complicated to be built and operated by one person, and therefore needs multiple owners. Various ownership methods are possible. The factory as a whole may be owned by all the community members as a cooperative or by shares. Alternately, parts of the factory may be owned by individuals or groups, who coordinate the operation as a whole. Reasons for people to build and operate such an automated factory include that it can supply their needs cheaper and with less labor than conventional methods, and as owners they are more secure in their position compared to employees. Additional reasons are potentially faster growth rates than other investments, and a better quality of life. For the purpose of our example, we specify a particular size and location for the Factory because many of the design details depend on knowing them. If another size or location were chosen, those details would would be different. The community is assumed to be located within reasonable travel distance (a few hours), with a concentration around a main location. Some people may participate remotely from larger distances, but on-site operation of the Factory and delivery of the outputs is easier over short distances.


  • Rationale - Why we consider this as a design example is distinct from the reasons future owners would have to build it. The Earth will need to support several billion more people by mid-century, and everyone, not just the added population, would like a decent quality of life. For such goals to be sustainable, communities need to operate mostly from local materials and energy resources with high levels of recycling, and be less dependent on consuming scarce resources with exhaustible supplies. A project that supports a local community should be of manageable size and complexity, and if successful can be duplicated as many times as needed to meet larger goals. Our other examples will explore different applications: larger scale industrial, more distributed without a main location, and more difficult and remote locations.
Figure 5.0-1. Community Factory evolution.


  • Evolution - The Factory evolves over a period of years from a partly automated starter set, or "Seed Factory". The starter set is built and operated by an original community, using conventional tools and equipment (Figure 5.0-1). The conventional workshop plus the first set of automated equipment form the seed. The original community would live and work in conventional homes and jobs, and begin work on the project part-time. As the Factory capacity expands, it produces more outputs, and needs more people to operate it. So some community members will transition to working full time on the project, and new members will join the community.
The starter set plus conventional equipment is used to make growth equipment in a series of expansion phases. This includes more copies of existing equipment, larger versions for increased scale and output, and new and different equipment to handle other processes. Throughout the growth process, outside supplies of parts and materials are needed for whatever items the Factory cannot make internally. As the Factory matures over time, the percentage of outside supplies should decrease. Surplus products above what the owners use for themselves are sold to pay for outside supplies for the Factory, and for income to the owners.
Since self-expanding factories are a new idea, a research and development phase is needed before the first operating Seed Factory elements are built. This phase includes developing new ideas and design approaches, documenting them in a form other people can use (such as this book), testing component technologies, factory element design, and building and testing prototypes. We expect the early part of this work is by way of a distributed open source collaboration. More work will be needed for growth items and improvements, so the research and development phase will continue in parallel with building and operating the growing factory.
When the factory reaches the design capacity of 660 people, the owners can decide to stay at that level, work on upgrades to the equipment, further growth of the community, or to seed a new community in a new location. These would constitute a new project stage, which is beyond the scope of the current project design.


  • Organization - The Factory is set up as one or more private projects, such as Limited Liability Corporations or Owners Associations. The various projects make agreements to supply each other, coordinate operations, and settle payments as needed so that the Community Factory as a whole functions effectively. Project members get proportional ownership and use of their project, and the products and sales income it generates, according to their net contributions. New contributions consist of design work, money, tools, materials, and labor for the original construction or continuing operation of the Factory. Owners can choose to draw fewer products or income than their share entitles them to, the difference adding to their total share. They can also choose to draw out more than their share, or sell their share to someone else, but the timing and details of excess draws may be limited for practical reasons. Excess draws or sale would reduce their share of the project. Decision making would be mostly proportional to ownership share. Some additional decision weight is allowed for people living and working at the project location, since they are more affected by such decisions than non-local owners.


Figure 5.0-2. Relative land areas for full community.
  • Land - The project requires land for a number of purposes. Figure 5.0-2 shows the relative land areas as if it were one rectangular land parcel. Most likely it will actually be arranged in separate and more irregular parcels, which are acquired as needed. Total project land, including the industrial, residential and commercial areas is estimated at 4500 m2/person or just under 300 hectares (740 acres). The land area for each person is estimated to include 1000 m2 for residential and commercial, including 200 m2 of building floor area, 500 m2 for industrial land, of which 200 m2 is buildings or constructed equipment, 500 m2 for farm and greenhouse space, and 2500 m2 for sustaining forest and raw materials extraction. During initial construction some extra land or sources of materials may be needed. The land is assumed to be undeveloped at first, and built up in the course of the project. We expect that most of the land will be purchased, but at the early stages some leased industrial land may be used, and mining and timber rights may be used as an alternate to outright purchase. A main location allows better integration of automation between factory steps, for the owner/operators who live there to have short distances for daily travel, and for easy return of materials for recycling. However we expect some people will want to live at separate locations by personal preference.


  • Energy - The project also requires a significant amount of energy to operate the Factory, and to supply to the residential and commercial areas. The main location includes its own equipment for producing the power and distributing it locally. If it is too inefficient to build small power units for people living at separate locations, then the main location would generate a surplus and sell it, and use that income to pay for distributed energy delivery by local utilities. For the energy production to be sustainable, the main sources are assumed to include types like solar, wind, and biofuels. Since these sources are variable, a combination of local storage and connection to outside utilities will be used to level out supply vs demand.


Study Sections[edit]

The details for this design example are organized into the following sections:

  • 5.1 - Requirements - The general goals of the project are converted to more detailed and specific system requirements for the design to meet, and a scoring system to evaluate the resulting designs.
  • 5.2 - Functions - The overall project is divided into smaller parts, and flows connecting the parts, which when combined will meet the intended goals.