The Seed Factory Project
Draft Project Report - 20 February 2013
- The Seed Factory Project
- 1309 Stroud Ave, Gadsden, AL 35903
- Please visit the Project Website
or Contact: Dani Eder, firstname.lastname@example.org
Project Introduction 
Biological seeds grow into larger organisms using local matter and energy, and eventually produce copies of the original seed. By analogy a seed factory grows from a small starter set to a larger factory using local matter and energy and high levels of automation. The factory is flexible and general purpose, and produces a variety of useful products, as well as more seed factories. We talk in terms of a factory rather than a single machine because (1) a number of different production processes are required which are best carried out separately, and (2) for the size and quantity of products we want to make, the final set of equipment is closer to commercial building size than garage or desktop size.
Although organized into different processes and machines, the factory as a whole is designed and operated as an integrated system. Full automation is probably not possible at present, but we think that computers, robotics, software, and sensors have advanced to the point that a mostly automated factory can be built. We also think existing technology enables running such a factory mostly on commonly available raw materials and renewable energy. This should make it both sustainable and low cost to operate. It therefore would compete favorably with traditional factories.
The near term goal of the Seed Factory Project is to design and demonstrate a first generation seed factory as a collaborative project. A longer term goal is a level of performance that supplies a high quality of life for the factory owner-operators, economic resilience by providing most needs from local sources, and technology for a sustainable 21st century civilization. In the long term, application of seed technology enables living beyond the Earth, by minimizing the equipment to be launched and using local raw materials and energy. The detailed processes and products for space will obviously be different, but the concept of an integrated starter factory which grows in capacity by making more equipment for itself, however, applies everywhere.
This introduction section gives a short summary of the project. Later sections provide more details and links. The report is intended to be kept up to date as the project evolves. The "View History" tab at the top of the page gives a revision history, and portable/printable versions can be generated at the bottom of the left sidebar.
Project Summary Status 
The project is in the Technology Development phase, which comes before building the first operational seed factory location. Current progress includes:
- Design - Conceptual design of a first generation seed factory is in progress. We are soliciting help to complete the initial study and later design as a distributed project. It is too complex and involves too many specialties to complete otherwise. The conceptual design stage identifies what needs a system must satisfy, the criteria for choosing among design options, and a design concept which identifies the major system functions and elements, and how they will be operated and maintained. The later stages of preliminary and detail design would complete the design process.
- Prototyping - A physical location is needed for the following tasks: building and testing new component technologies, building scaled and full size factory machines, and integrating a complete prototype factory. Planning for a physical location has started. We expect to acquire a location later in 2013, but this depends on funding and sufficient progress on the design before moving into hardware development.
- Finances - The conceptual design stage requires people with appropriate skills, and computers with appropriate software. We are operating as a distributed project where members will get a share of the resulting factory. Most people with the right skills have access to suitable computers and software, and computer-based design, simulation and software development are much less expensive in terms of equipment than physical hardware. Therefore we don't need much outside funding at present. That will likely change once hardware work begins. We will not have an estimate until the conceptual design is done and we know what component technologies and prototypes need to be built. Building a fully operating factory and a community for it to support is industrial and real estate development. This requires much larger amounts of funding, but there are also conventional methods in place to supply such funding. By that time we would have demonstrated the prototypes, which should make funding easier.
Project Organization 
Our goal is the most benefit for the most people, and a fair return on their efforts to project members. Therefore the project as currently envisioned will open-source the design and technology, but members will own the physical location and hardware, and benefit from any products the factory produces. Because individuals will benefit, the project will likely be operated as a community-owned business, such as a limited liability corporation (LLC). The exact legal structure will need expert input and need to follow local laws, but the intent is that members get a proportional share according to what they put into the project. Inputs can be design work, funding, tools and materials, and physical labor. Since the design is intended to be open-sourced, it is open for any competent contributor. We request that if people contribute their work, they include data sources and calculations, so that others can check and improve upon it.
For the physical aspect of the project, we expect there to be a main location where the seed factory hardware is assembled and tested. Therefore whatever hands-on labor is required will need to use people from the local region, or members who can travel there. If there is enough interest and it makes sense, individuals and satellite groups can work elsewhere and ship parts and hardware to the main location. In return, outputs from the factory will be delivered directly to local members, or shipped if they are further away. Because the seed factory is designed to make a wide variety of items, members will be able to submit design files or select previously designed items to be custom made according to their proportional share in the project. Members should be able to mark design files as private (for their own use only), or public (contributed to a library for anyone to use or modify). Submitting designs or orders would be similar to rapid prototyping/3D printing services or conventional fabrication shops, except that project members own the factory. So they are using their own equipment to make things for themselves. We would also accept orders from the general public and sell surplus production to pay for things we cannot make internally.
The design goal is to support most of the food, housing, and utility needs of a community. Thus once the seed factory is operating and growing, we would start to buy and develop local real estate. The factory will produce building materials, grow food, and generate power and clean water. Members can then build residences, office buildings, and other items for themselves or to lease to others. Because the factory starts from common raw materials and uses automation, these end products should be much less expensive than conventional versions. If the first location is successful, then new seed factories can be set up in other locations and the whole process replicated.
Design Process 
Goals - The purpose of a seed factory is not just to make more of itself. The products we want the final factory to make determine what equipment it needs. In turn, that final equipment list determines what the starter set has to grow into. For the first generation factory, the "product" we have chosen is supporting the needs for food, shelter, and utilities of a local community. These are basic needs that everyone shares, so we hope the project will have widespread application, especially for people who don't have these needs fulfilled today. We put these general needs in more specific numerical terms, and then follow a Systems Engineering process to reach a design for the final factory and the starter set.
We think that meeting 100% of a community's needs is too difficult for a first generation factory. Therefore the initial goal is set at meeting 85% of their food, housing, and utility needs, with community members filling the difference with outside work and outside supplies. Because of self-production and automation, the bulk of community needs would be met with less work and less cost than conventional alternatives, giving a reason for people to participate.
Conceptual Design - We are performing an Initial Study as part of that process. The study is incomplete, but you can refer to it if you want to see all the current work. The study treats the factory and the community it supports as an interrelated system with input and output flows between them and with the outside world. It then uses the basic engineering principle that matter and energy are conserved, in other words they do not appear or vanish from nothing. Thus all resource flows of whatever type that enter and leave the system, or move between it's parts, must be accounted for in a complete design. This includes raw materials, recycled items, and final waste outputs. A design goal for sustainability is to use up more waste in the form of trash and scrap inputs from outside sources than we create, and to leave the land in better condition than it started. We don't know yet if that goal can be reached. By explicitly considering all the resource flows we will at least know where we stand relative to that goal, and what items need improving to reach it.
Development - Assuming we reach a good result, the initial study would be followed by more detailed design, technology development, and hardware demonstrations. Computer design, simulation, and software development is much cheaper, aside from the human time involved, than building hardware. So we will try to do as much of the early work as possible electronically. As it becomes necessary to prove a new component technology, or an element design is sufficiently complete, we will transition to hardware mode. As more of the elements are finished, our intent would be to build a working location with a complete factory and resident community to demonstrate the whole system works. The completed elements and machines of a partial factory can be used to make items for the project members or for outside sale. Thus it can be useful and productive as soon as one part is working.
Later Phases - Once a complete location is built, other people at other locations can then use outputs from this factory to make copies. They could also use the designs we develop to build their own versions from scratch, with adaption to local circumstances. After the first generation factory is demonstrated, we would continue to improve the technology and performance. The directions for improvement include higher percentages of self-production and automation, simplifying and optimizing the starter set, and adapting the seed concept to more difficult locations. These include less developed areas, harsh climates, and environments that lack particular resources. The most difficult locations would be beyond the Earth. An Earth factory could be adapted to build space hardware, which could be used to launch and set up a specially designed seed factory at some location in space. This would be operated remotely until enough human needs could be supported for residents to arrive. This would be an advanced application of the seed technology and require a lot of development. The first generation we are starting with is only designed to meet ordinary needs for people on Earth.
Current Design Summary 
In order to grow into a larger and more diverse industrial capacity, the factory needs to extract and process raw materials, supply energy to operate, fabricate mechanical and electrical parts, and assemble them into new production elements. Beyond internal growth, it must also be able to provide maintenance for itself and useful products that people want.
Approximately 300 different production processes exist, but not all are required in the seed. We have identified eight basic production elements which we think are flexible enough to serve as a starter set. This may change as the design evolves. They are:
- (1) Modular Robotic Vehicle and Attachments - which provide physical transport and manipulation. The robotic arms and attachments can operate separately as stationary factory items, or attached to a vehicle. The robotic vehicle core can also operate without attachments for simple transport, or with any of a variety of devices like farm and construction equipment use.
- (2) Solar Furnace Facility - which provides electric power and high temperature process heating. Concentrated sunlight is a high quality energy source. Different target devices placed at the focus allow using the energy for different purposes like power generation, cement and brick making, and metals casting. A thermal storage bed stores excess energy for times when direct sun is not available.
- (3) Multi-Head Bridge Mill - which performs machining, 3D printing, plasma cutting, and other functions. The bridge has mountings for up to four different working heads, each of which can do a different task. The heads, in turn, can be exchanged whole, or swap bits or supplies at the sides of the frame. The shared bridge frame provides vertical and cross motion, and rails below the bridge provide the translation axis. The variety of functions and size of objects are only limited by the number of different heads and length of the rails and tables which ride them, respectively. Additional motion axes, if needed are supplied by the heads and tables, and tables can be swapped for different tasks.
- (4) Quad-Rail CNC Lathe - which does more accurate and symmetric parts. Two rails support the main spindles and workpiece, while the other two carry a cross-slide, turret, and milling head. Since the four rails are rigidly attached to each other, high accuracy is possible. The rotation of the spindle makes the lathe better for round parts, while the linear motion of the Bridge Mill is better for rectangular shapes.
- (5) Four Post Hydraulic Press - which does all types of forging, molding, shearing, and rolling. A press is generally not as accurate as machining, but much faster, and suitable for preparing raw stock for final machining. The four posts accurately guide a moving upper plate relative to a fixed lower plate, driven by a powerful hydraulic cylinder. A variety of attachments are fixed to the plates, like dies and molds, cutting blades, and rollers, and auxiliary heaters if needed for hot forging.
- (6) Flexible Process Plant - which does all sorts of physical, chemical, and electrical processes. Physical processes include things like grinding, mixing, and drying. Chemical processes involve reactions or catalysts, and electrical processes include electrolysis and plating. A variety of end products are made by connecting a series of units which do one step each in different sequences, and storing intermediate products as needed.
- (7) Electrical Shop - which produces simpler electric and electronic items, and assembles them into complete devices. Simpler items include wires, coils, filaments, batteries, transformers, motors, generators, and custom circuit boards. More complex parts like computer chips and displays are bought.
- (8) Modular Factory Building - which provides the proper environments for operations, utilities distribution, structural support, storage, assembly areas, and materials handling. It also provides for human work areas, and access for maintenance. The building is designed to be easily extended and re-arranged as the factory grows.
Not included in the above list are the computers, software, and network which control the automated operations, design files for the seed and new equipment, and the humans which tell the computers what to do, and perform manual tasks which are not automated. Each of the major elements can be extended with more units, attachments, tooling, and bits. Making such additions will be an early task for the seed factory. Nominally we would start with one of each core machine, but for higher production rates we can build multiple copies. The starter set is designed for maximum flexibility rather than maximum efficiency. Later additions can be more specialized. For growth, the starter set can be used to build more copies of themselves, different machines to extend the range of processes or increase efficiency, or bigger machines to increase production rates. Sufficient land is required for the buildings and solar collectors, and either on-site or nearby sources of raw materials. In it's most portable form, the system consists of design files and instructions to build the starter set and later additions.
The factory will not make 100% of it's own parts. At first this is because it does not have the all the machines required. Later on there will be scarce materials or complex parts like computer chips which are not economical to do internally. Instead the factory will sell surplus production of things it can make to pay for those it cannot. As the factory grows it will be able to make an increasing percentage internally. Our goal for the first generation seed factory is 85% self-production, with later generations reaching 98%.
The seed factory will also not be 100% automated. Current automation and robotics is not yet capable of doing every task. In addition, with finite time and resources to develop this project, we do not think we can design and program for every step. Finally, some tasks will only be done once or very rarely, so it is not worth automating. Therefore the factory will need human operators, either physically on-site or controlling equipment remotely, and to do whatever non-machine manual tasks are needed. Our goal for the first generation seed is to automate most of the routine and repetitive tasks. With additional time and resources, more of the tasks can be programmed to run automatically, improving productivity.
Like any workshop or factory we will also have supporting tools and equipment. These are for measuring, sharpening, hand finishing, manual assembly, maintenance, and similar tasks. We will need existing generation tools and equipment and a conventional building to make the prototypes and the first working version of the seed factory. Some of that may be done in distributed locations by project members or ordered from commercial suppliers, rather than in a central location.
Additional Information 
The following pages will provide more detailed information about the project. They are still in work as of Feb 2013.