3nd Quarter 2013 Report
- The Seed Factory Project
- 1309 Stroud Ave, Gadsden, AL 35903
Contact: Dani Eder, email@example.com
|Please Note - This introduction is only a short summary of our project goals and the Seed Factory concept. For full details, please see the Seed Factories Wikibook and other links within the report.|
The Seed Factory Project is an open-source collaboration to develop the concepts, technologies, and working examples of self-expanding production systems. We want to enable a sustainable 21st century civilization with a high quality of life, and economic resilience by providing most needs from local sources. Early versions are designed for a community of independent owner-operators, who build the equipment and use the products it makes themselves. Later versions can be designed to grow to industrial scale, where larger quantities are made and sold. In the longer term, this technology will enable living in more difficult environments, and eventually beyond the Earth. It does this by minimizing the equipment needed to start, and using local raw materials and energy. The detailed processes and products for each application and environment will be different. The general idea of an integrated starter factory, which grows in capacity by making more equipment for itself, is universal.
Biological seeds grow into larger organisms using local matter and energy, and eventually produce copies of the original seeds. A Seed Factory is then a new kind of production system, which grows in a similar way from a small starter set to a mature factory, then make copies of the starter set. Like any factory, it produces useful products as outputs, but it also self-expands by making more factory parts for internal use. The expansion uses a combination of three methods:
- Replication - making copies of its own parts
- Diversification - making parts for new and different equipment
- Scaling - making parts for larger versions of existing equipment
The factory is designed to operate as an integrated whole. We refer to it as a factory rather than a single machine because a number of different materials and production processes are needed, which are best carried out by separate machines. In addition, for a useful level of outputs, the final set of equipment for a mature factory is closer to commercial building size than garage or desktop size. The "Seed", or starter kit, can be much smaller, just like a plant seed is much smaller than the mature plant it grows into.
Compared to conventional specialized factories, combining production steps allows more automation and reduced overhead. Integrated process flows also allows using wastes from one step as inputs to others, increasing overall efficiency. Starter kits will not be fully automated, nor able to make all their own parts internally. They will require inputs of labor, parts, and materials. As they grow, they can gradually become more automated and capable of a higher percentage of self-production. We think that modern computers, robotics, software, and sensors have reached the point that this kind of self-expanding system is possible. We also think that such factories can mostly use locally available raw materials and renewable energy, and recycle many waste products. The combination of a small starter kit, less need for outside supplies, and high levels of automation should make such factories sustainable and low cost to operate.
Third Quarter 2013
In the 3rd Quarter of 2013 we made progress in all areas of the project:
As an open-source collaboration, we intend to make the project data available online, and open to contributions by anyone with sufficient knowledge. Our data so far includes:
- Seed Factories Wikibook - This intended as a textbook-style introduction to the concept of Seed Factories, how they are designed, and several design examples. In this quarter the book has grown from 186 to 210 equivalent pages (13%). Most of the additions this quarter have been in section 5.0, which describes the Personal Factory example, and a start at updating the early sections.
- Project Websites - We obtained two domain names: www.seed-factory.org and seed-factory.info for public information, and have started to build their websites.
- Online Data - We set up an account on GitHub, currently with two repositories. The "data" repository is intended to host project code and other data types such as design files. Wikibooks is a good collaboration tool, but it mainly takes text and image files. Therefore other file types need a different storage location. The "seed-factory-project.github.io" repository holds the public information website code.
Developing a technology from a new idea to practical working examples has many steps, and we are still in the early stages of doing this. In addition to expanding on the ideas in the Wikibook, we also worked on the following:
- Technical Library - In developing new technology, we want our designs to be based on the current engineering knowledge, and not to repeat work others have already done. Our technical library will help in that goal, although not sufficient in itself. We will also need people skilled in various fields and other sources of information.
- In the 3rd quarter we completed cataloging the reference data already in hand, and began optimizing the pdf files to make them easier to back up and use. The electronic library is now 39.1 GB in size, organized by the Library of Congress system. This is significantly smaller than the 49.8 GB reported in the last quarter because of elimination of duplications and optimizing. Currently 10.07 GB of the files have been optimized. We intend to make the distributable portion of the data available once we finish optimizing it, and provide a list of the copyrighted works so that others can find them. We intend to update the library over time, and suggestions for additions or better sources are welcome.
- Permanent Location - Our long-term goal is to build working examples of seed factories, to prove that our ideas work in the real world. Over the next year we will work towards a permanent location where we can start to do this. The location would include design space, a conventional workshop to make and assemble parts, and areas to test the prototype equipment. We plan to work with the Atlanta-area Maker community, such as Freeside Atlanta, who already have a high tech do-it-yourself workshop. Demonstrating factory processes like solar energy and food growth will require extensive land area. Thus our location will be near Atlanta, but sufficiently far from the central metro to where land is affordable. Since we are currently in Gadsden, Alabama, we have begun preparing to put personal items in storage before looking for the permanent location.
- Workshop Equipment - This quarter we started preparing our first major equipment items for the conventional workshop. These are a 2000 model Chevy truck and same aged 16 foot utility trailer. They will be used for general transportation of equipment and materials. Due to their age, both required significant maintenance. This quarter we purchased new tires for the truck, and began to repaint the frame and replace the deck on the trailer. In the 4th quarter we expect to finish the maintenance and have the vehicles ready for use. We have a fair amount of basic shop tools and raw materials (mostly lumber) which will be inventoried and later moved to the permanent location. We expect to acquire a large amount of additional tools and materials to outfit the workshop, so this is a first step.
Conceptual design only requires computers, which project members already have. As we move into physical hardware significant additional funding will be needed. We expect to meet those needs from a combination of member contributions and outside fundraising. Open source development does not preclude making money. Our plan is to operate this Seed Factory Project as a non-profit entity for doing the early research and technology. When we reach the point of building an operating factory, that would be set up as an independent business entity. For now, all activity is aimed at the non-profit open-source research.
The project's founder, Dani Eder, is a retired aerospace engineer. Payments from the Boeing Company and personal savings make about $1500/month available towards project expenses, which are the sole regular source of funds at present.
Between a previous fundraiser, and personal "mining" and purchases, our holdings of the bitcoin virtual currency are now 32.23 units, and further purchases are planned. At the current market value of $123/unit this has a value of $3,965. We have been moving these funds to an offline "cold wallet" to protect them from theft. We are holding bitcoins for several reasons. It was an efficient way to do fundraising, and we think their value will go up in the long term. In addition, one of our design examples, the "World Wide Factory", is a distributed peer-to-peer production system. We envision uses a virtual currency to settle payments among owners, so bitcoin gives us a working example to implement that.
We have started developing a project financial report. It is incomplete, but total project-dedicated assets are estimated at $13,000 as of this quarter. It consists mostly of bitcoin units and the two utility vehicles. We do not currently place an asset value on technical data developed within the project, as it is intended to be open source. This might change when we get competent accounting advice.
Besides Dani Eder, who started the project, this quarter we started getting help from a graphics/web designer, and got several expressions of interest from other technical contributors. We will need more project members to contribute to the technical work, and will continue to expand our website and publicity efforts towards that goal. The 11 people who contributed to the bitcoin fundraiser are considered project members, and will get a share of future factory outputs when we reach that point.
Second Quarter 2013
- Seed Factories Wikibook
Historically, civilization has grown from smaller and simpler production capacity, especially when settling new areas. The practice of using tools to make more tools is much older than that, even. The idea of machine replication began to be investigated in the mid-20th century, and NASA briefly considered placing an automated factory that could copy itself on the Moon in a 1980 study. Computers and communications were not up to the task at that time, and NASA never considered applying the idea to Earth, therefore they did not pursue it further. In the course of working on a space engineering textbook, author Eder realized that automation and robotics had advanced dramatically since the 1980 study, and the idea of self-expanding factories applies just as well on Earth as in space. What started as notes on the concept in the textbook evolved into a separate book and a project to implement the idea for Earth applications.
At the start of the 2nd quarter, the accumulated notes had just been moved to the Seed Factories Wikibook and the book outline was at an early stage. Wiki pages are variable size, and usually closer to chapter length than traditional book pages, thus we track progress in terms of paper book equivalents of 3000 characters or 500 words. The notes and text started the quarter at 135.6 pages and finished at 186.1 pages, an increase of 37.2%. The book is still far from complete, but we think we have incorporated the main ideas and methods for designing Seed Factories, and have made a start on one of the four example designs, the Personal Factory. The intent is for the book to become a reference manual for designers and builders. Since working Seed Factories don't exist yet, the book will include how to design them, and also multiple completed design examples.
We expect to continue work on the book for the remainder of 2013 and into next year. We are using Wikibooks because it is open source and makes it easy for other people to collaborate. As the example designs move from concept level to more detailed hardware and software, we expect to start using other open-source locations that are better suited for those types of data.
- Technology Development Plan
The technology needed for building a functional Seed Factory is not entirely new. Many of the industrial processes it will use already exist, and computers, automation, and robotics have reached a high state of development. Nevertheless we are putting them together in a new way, and there are no experience-based engineering handbooks to refer to yet for these kinds of projects. We expect to use a considerable amount of custom hardware and software, and need to test some new technologies and reduce uncertainties before anyone will commit to an operational factory project. We devised a Technology Development Plan and intend to follow it and update it as needed.
During the 2nd Quarter we continued to build a science and technology reference library. Mr. Eder's original personal library, accumulated over the past 30 years, is on paper. This is hard to search and parts are very out of date. We want to base our designs on the latest available existing technology, and not repeat work others have already done. Therefore we have been accumulating reference data. At the end of the second quarter this amounts to 38.8 GB of cataloged data, and 11.0 GB still to be cataloged. We plan to continue to organize this data over the next few quarters so that it will be ready to use by the time we start doing detailed design.
The plan includes continuing the conceptual work, documented in the Wikibook, and making progress towards preliminary design and component research. Eventually this leads to building prototypes of factory hardware and software and testing them to prove their performance. We hope that more people will join our project and collaborate in the development. The early stage work (conceptual and preliminary design) can be done by anyone with the technical skills and a computer. When we get to physical hardware, some of that might be built and tested by remote teams, especially in small scale. But at some point a dedicated location will be needed to test things like robotic farming and large solar furnaces. We will investigate collaborating with existing non-profits and research institutions such as universities, but we think it more likely the project will need its own location when it gets to building integrated factory prototypes.
Whatever physical location is used for testing, funding will be needed for equipment, parts, and materials. In the second quarter we ran a fundraiser on the Bitcoinstarter crowdfunding website. That fundraiser reached its goal, and a private individual made a matching contribution direct to us after finding the fundraiser, so effectively we reached twice the goal. In addition to the bitcoins held by Eder already, this amounts to around $3000 in virtual currency. We plan to hold these funds until they are needed for project purchases. We plan to do more fundraising in the future, and project founder Dani Eder plans to apply his personal savings and income above living expenses to the project.
Although the technology developed in this project will be open-sourced, physical hardware built using it will belong to project members who contribute to its development and construction. Any products such equipment produces will also be proportionally shared among project members.
- Dani Eder - Is the project founder and currently sole regular technical contributor. He has over 30 years experience in aerospace engineering, most of it with the Boeing Company. As of 01 August 2013 he will reach retirement age and be able to devote full time to this project.
- Financial Contributors - A total of 11 people have contributed funding as a result of the Bitcoinstarter fundraiser. These people will own a share of the eventual hardware and factory, and the products and sales they produce.
- Seed Factories Wikibook - The main source of information about the concept and designs.
- Fast Company Article - by Dani Eder about the project.
- Project Notes - These are unconsolidated notes with additional information related to this status report.