Section 5.0 - Personal Production
Sections 5.0 through 5.6, and the notes in section 9.0, present our first example of putting the ideas from earlier in the book to practical use. This section (5.0) starts with an overview of the Personal Production project. Later sections will follow the design process in more detail, showing how we develop the concept and then would implement it.
Goals and Objectives
The main goal of the project is making a range of basic products for a local community of owner-operators, such as food, building materials, and utilities. We call it Personal Production because the outputs will mainly be for personal use of the people who make them. We expect project members to start with average skills and resources. So one objective in developing the concept is to keep it in the range of what they can handle by minimizing start-up effort. Self-expanding systems of the type described in this book are a new way to organize production. So another objective is to actually build the project in physical form. This is to gain experience and feedback before attempting larger and more complex designs.
Our general approach is to start small, and expand the project in a series of phases as it gains more people, and their skills and experience increase. Tools and equipment also start small, with what people already have or can easily purchase. These evolve to larger items, and members start to make some of the equipment themselves. In parallel with the project expansion, R&D work will develop plans, instructions, training materials, and prototypes. These are supplied to the project for their use.
The R&D work starts in advance of the project, and develops plans for the expansion phases, including what skills and equipment are likely to be needed. The R&D effort will also build prototype new equipment, and will therefore have working space and tools of its own. These can be lent to the new project in the early stages. We don't know in advance what skills and equipment the project members will start with, so the early growth has to be flexible. We assume on average they will have basic household maintenance skills and tools. For any given person this can range from none of either, to people who are in skilled trades and have a good set of their own tools. Whatever gaps exist would be filled by a training program, loaned tools from the R&D side, using community workshops and tool banks, and purchase of tools and equipment from conventional sources. As the project expands, members can gradually add more capable purchased tools and machines.
The expansion would lead to a set of "seed machines". These are intended for making more equipment, rather than end-items for personal use. This starts a transition to internal self-expansion, rather than purchasing all needed tools. The first seed machines have to be purchased, supplied from the R&D phase, or built from R&D designs using previous equipment in the project. Later machines can use parts made internally with the earlier ones. This starts building a capacity to bootstrap further growth without needing to buy everything.
The finished products, which are the main reason for the project, would start with a limited range of hobby and home-use items. They would evolve towards a wider range, and larger scale, such as major home improvements. Early products would use existing or easily learned skills. As the number of people increases, they would either arrive with additional skills and experience, or gain them by training and practice. They can then attempt more complex projects.
At first, the personally owned tools and machines are small enough to fit in existing spaces in members' homes. As the collection of equipment grows, the project as a whole would need to build or acquire dedicated work spaces and transport. At the larger scales, costs might be shared across partnerships and cooperatives, with financing for the more expensive items. Eventually, capacity would grow beyond personal needs, and members can start providing products and services for outside customers. Participation can increase from spare-time efforts to part- or full-time self-employment, supplementing or replacing conventional jobs.
The second objective for the project is to physically implement it as a working example. This takes self-expanding systems beyond theory and research and into practical use and experience. To this end, The Seed Factory Project has purchased property in the Atlanta metro area. It serves as a place to do R&D and an early workspace for this project. We intend to pursue this example, both for the benefit of project members, and as a way to test the ideas we are developing. Our work on Personal Production will therefore include the preliminary R&D needed, starting the project, running it, and getting feedback. Since this is a small-scale demonstration project, we will only be using some of the design concepts and processes described in this book. Applying the full suite of engineering tasks would be too much effort relative to the scale of the project, and we want to get feedback from early uses before attempting larger scale projects.
Our R&D work is open-source, including this book and related information. A first working example has to be built somewhere, and we chose Atlanta for it. But we encourage others to make use of our ideas, expand on them, develop their own projects, and contribute back to the shared knowledge base. Knowledge is easy to share around the world, but people and workshops full of machines are less mobile. So we expect people who are interested, but located elsewhere, to develop their own local projects. Designs can be traded freely, but people and equipment would be less frequently exchanged for practical reasons.
Our assumed location for this project is the Atlanta Combined Statistical Area. We chose this location for several reasons. First, The Seed Factory Project has already bought property and started developing an R&D site there. It makes sense to also attempt a first demonstration project in the same area. Second, Atlanta is a large and well developed metropolis with a moderate climate, making it an easy place for a first attempt. Third, for design purposes we need to know the actual local conditions in terms of development level, physical distances, environment, and resource parameters. Assuming this first attempt is successful, it can be replicated at other similar locations. The designs may then need some adjustment for local conditions.
- Development Level
The Atlanta CSA is the 11th largest such area by population in the United States, covering 39 counties in the northwest part of Georgia (see Census Map), with an estimated population of 6.5 million and a total area of 27,180 km2. It includes a dense urban core, surrounding suburban areas, and less populated outlying areas. Atlanta is highly developed by many standards. It is considered a Global City, linking a moderately large economic region to the world economy. Economic activity in 2017, as measured by gross regional product, was about $400 billion, or about $60,000/person. It is a major transportation hub with well-develop road, rail, and air infrastructure, and has significant media, information technology, and research activity.
The more remote a location is, the more difficult it becomes to set up operations and develop projects there. Atlanta is not remote by any of the measures we are using. These include round-trip communications (ping) time, travel time to significant parts of the world's population, stability of local population, and transport energy to significant parts of the world's population. Atlanta has well-developed internet and wireless services, so communications delays do not affect project activity. It is home to the world's busiest airport, so travel time for people is quite low to most of the world. A temporary population, such as found on scientific expeditions, makes projects more difficult due to increased staff turnover and travel needed. Atlanta has a relatively stable, but growing, population. It is well-served by rail, so energy to deliver bulk goods from other places is fairly low.
- Environment Parameters
Equipment must be designed for a particular operating environment. If the natural local environment is not suitable, then buildings and equipment have to be supplied to modify it. Outdoor equipment needs to be adapted for whatever the local conditions are. Moderate conditions can make the most use of existing equipment and designs, and are therefore easier. More unusual or extreme conditions require adaption, modification, or new designs, making them harder. For this project we consider temperature, water supply, atmospheric pressure, ground loads, and energy supply. For later projects we also consider gravity level and radiation dose.
Atlanta has a Humid Subtropical Climate which seasonally ranges from lows of -9 C to highs of 36 C (16-97 F), with extremes of -23 to 41 C (-9 to 106 F). The area us crossed by several river basins, primarily the Chattahoochee by flow volume, and gets an average of 1.26 meters (50 in) of precipitation. Many parts of the area are served by public water supply networks, so water supply is generally good. Atmospheric pressure is mainly determined by ground elevation, which ranges from 175-550 m (570-1800 ft). Reference pressure is therefore 2-5% below sea level. Weather extremes can raise or lower the pressure by up to 2.8% from the reference value, but more typical weather variations are 1-1.5%.
The underlying Geology in this part of Georgia is mainly the Piedmont plateau, which lies east of the Appalachian mountains. It is the remnant of several previous mountain chains which have since been eroded away. The mountain formation folded and compressed the crust, leaving a complex array of metamorphic rock types. The base rock is therefore strong, but weathering has produced a variable thickness of clay over much of the area, which can be soft when wet. The ground loads which can be supported are therefore localized. They are usually adequate for light construction such as residences, but should be checked before any new building is started. Local solar energy is reasonably good, but wind energy is fairly low due to hills and trees. Most energy use is from non-local fuels and electric generation.
- Local Resources
We define a series of expansion phases to cover the growth of the project from a small starting point to full capacity. Each phase is simpler to plan for and design than doing the entire project at once. A phased approach allows using earlier to help make items for later phases. It also distributes funding and R&D work over time, making it more affordable. We arbitrarily choose six phases for our project and set increasing goals for community size and average economic output. The goals are for the end of each phase and assume geometric growth in size, but decreasing increments in average output. This is because we expect some overlap in output types and that the easier ones are added earlier:
- Phase A - 3 people, 4.7% average output,
- Phase B - 9 people, 9.2% average output,
- Phase C - 25 people, 13.5% average output,
- Phase D - 75 people, 17.6% average output,
- Phase E - 225 people, 21.5% average output, and
- Phase F - 660 people, 25.2% average output.
(project with outside entities, inputs & outputs, parts of the project to each other)
The project is intended to start with products and services for hobby and home improvement-scale use by a network of owner-operators and their immediate community in the vicinity of Atlanta, GA. We specify Atlanta as the location so the design constraints and local environment are based on actual conditions rather than hypothetical ones. When it reaches maturity, we have a goal of meeting up to 25% by value of member's needs and wants, on average, on a part-time work basis. Participation by any given person depends in their interest and available time and funds. At maturity, the project is not intended to replace conventional jobs, but rather be an addition to other household activity. Most of the outputs are intended to be used by the owner-operators and their immediate community of relatives, neighbors, and friends. A portion may be sold or traded to other people. Sales and trade can help pay for new materials, parts, and equipment that can't be made internally.
The scope of the project is intentionally limited, since it is a first-time effort. Even though the production scale is small, the cost of all the project equipment is likely too much for one individual, and a variety of skills and knowledge are needed to operate them all. So we assume the project involves multiple people. We also expect that the full set of equipment will not fit in available spaces in member's homes. They will eventually need shared workshop and storage space. Different ownership methods are possible. The equipment may be owned by all the network members as a cooperative or by shares. Alternately, different items may be owned by individuals or small groups, who coordinate their work with others as needed. The whole project is assumed to be located within reasonable travel distance (a few hours), with a concentration around a main location. This makes it easier to do hands-on work when needed and deliver products. Some people may participate remotely from larger distances.
For a project to happen, people need reasons to get involved. For a project of this scale those reasons include improving their personal skills and knowledge, completing items or tasks they could not do on their own, and getting what they need and want at lower cost and labor than they could otherwise. The latter is partly accomplished with more capable or automated equipment than individuals can get on their own. Additional reasons include customizing what they make according to individual needs and preferences, and potentially fast growth by bootstrapping from starter projects on this scale to larger ones, and developing friendships and community resilience.
We selected Personal Production as a design example for distinct reasons from those future project members would have to participate. 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 this to be sustainable, communities will need to operate mostly from local materials and renewable energy with high levels of recycling. They need to rely less on consuming scarce resources with exhaustible supplies. Smart tools (automation, robotics, software, and artificial intelligence) are increasingly able to displace conventional jobs. Profit-oriented businesses won't keep employees they don't need, creating an unemployment problem. If people can support themselves using their own skills and equipment, it solves that problem. 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. This example also serves to gain experience with self-expanding systems in general, and as a starting point for growth to larger scales and more locations.
The main topics of this book are seed factories and self-expanding systems in general. First-generation projects won't have complete designs or seed equipment available, so they have to self-expand starting from what is already available in terms of tools, skills, resources, and knowledge. We know this is possible today, because civilization in general and colonies in the past have bootstrapped their development this way. So we are just repeating a historical process, and in effect colonizing an existing area with new development on top of what is already there. As seed factory equipment and processes are added to the mix, it makes expansion and upgrades more efficient, but they are still possible without them.
As a first-generation project, complete seed factories or designs for their equipment won't be available at the start. We therefore rely on tools and skills that people already have, or can easily obtain. Initial funding would come from the members, with the possibility of outside help or financing. Parts, materials, power, and transport would start with what is already available from members or locally. R&D work for the project would proceed in parallel, guiding what additions to make, and either supply prototype seed equipment or designs and instructions to build them (Figure 5.0-1). Conventional and custom-designed equipment would be used together, both for finished products and services, and for building new items to expand capacity. Since not all the needed equipment or skills are available in the early stages, members would focus on those tasks they are capable of, and get outside help or supplies where needed for the rest.
The starting set of equipment is partly used to make growth equipment in a logical series of expansion phases. Dividing the growth into phases makes the process easier to design, since fewer new items and changes need to be made at a time. It also makes it less expensive. The earlier expansion phases include adding storage and work space, making accessory items for existing tools and equipment, starting to make new basic equipment from purchased parts and materials, and starting to duplicate purchased tools and machines. In the later phases, the project may start introducing seed machines which can grow by making more copies of existing equipment, larger versions for increased scale and output, and new and different equipment to handle other processes. Throughout the expansion phases, outside supplies of parts and materials are needed for whatever items can't be made internally. As the set of equipment grows over time, the percentage of outside supplies should decrease. Surplus products above what the owners use for themselves can be sold to pay for necessary supplies, and for supplementary income for the owners.
When the Personal Production project reaches the original capacity goals, the owners can decide to stay at that level, work on additional upgrades to the equipment, further growth of the community, or to seed a new community in a new location. These choices would go beyond the current project example and lead to later ones.
- Project Management
The project would set up as one or more private organizations that own and operate the equipment. Examples are sole proprietorships (single owners), limited liability corporations, or cooperative associations. The various individuals and organizations make agreements to supply each other with labor and products, coordinate operations, and settle payments as needed so that the project as a whole functions effectively. Organization members typically get proportional ownership and use of their equipment, and the products and sales income it generates, according to their net contributions. For example, an agriculture operation may have a full-time farmer who is trained and operates the equipment, and therefore has a larger share, while the other members provide funding and occasional help at peak times, and have smaller shares.
New contributions to start or expand an organization can consist of design work, money, tools, materials, and labor. Once in operation, the owners can choose to draw fewer products or income than their share entitles them to, with the difference adding to their accumulated 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 or working at the project locations, since they are more affected by such decisions than non-local owners.
The project will require physical space in the form of land for a number of purposes. Figure 5.0-2 shows the estimated land areas for a fully evolved Personal Production project, as if it were one rectangular land parcel. Most likely it will actually be arranged in separate and more irregular parcels, which were already owned by project members or acquired as needed. The land estimate is based on the equivalent of fully supporting 660 people. Each project member has a variable participation level, with a goal of eventually meeting 25% of their needs on average. So approximately 2600 people would be involved once the project reaches full capacity.
Total project land, including the industrial, residential and commercial areas is estimated at 4500 m2 per full time person, or just under 300 hectares (740 acres) for the 2600 total people at 25% average time. The land area for each person is estimated to include 1000 m2 for residential and commercial, including 200 m2 of building floor area. It also includes 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.
These areas are for steady-state operation. During initial construction some extra land or sources of materials may be needed. Extra sources may not be needed if the land includes already developed areas and buildings. The land is assumed to be of mixed types. Some will be residential or other types of land already owned by members. Other land would 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. Larger industrial and agriculture sites allow better integration of automation, and efficiency of operation. On the other hand, owner/operators who have equipment at home or nearby would have short distances for daily travel, and for easy return of materials for recycling. So we expect the scale and content of individual sites in the project will vary. Where people live will be governed by many other factors besides production efficiency, and those need to be taken into account.
The project will also require a significant amount of energy to operate the equipment, and to supply residential and commercial needs. Residential self-production is often not possible because other buildings, trees, and terrain block devices like wind and solar. Some people also rent their residence, and cannot make modifications to it. The solution is to build energy systems at good locations for them, and if the energy is not used on-site, to sell it a local utility and use the income to offset local energy used at other sites. If the energy systems are self-built using their own production equipment, the costs should be lower. 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. At the start of the project, no self-built systems are available yet, so conventional sources are used.
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.
- 9.0 - Notes - Pages 1-8 of the notes section includes details related to the Personal Production example.
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- This includes a partly automated starter set of custom-designed machines, plus some already existing equipment which is purchased. The original community may form ahead of time, and use conventional tools and equipment to build the starter set(Figure 5.0-1), or the custom equipment may come from a prior R&D phase. The conventional workshop items continue to be used in addition to the first set of automated equipment. As more equipment is made and production capacity expands, the location as a whole can produce more outputs, and needs more people to operate everything. So new members would join the community, and production gradually scales from hobby amounts to more substantial home uses.
- Self-expanding automated production is not an entirely new idea, but is new in terms of actually building and operating examples. So 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, detailed equipment 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.
The Conceptual Design developed in these pages is the first stage of a full project life cycle. Later stages would complete the more detailed design, prototyping, and build and operate the final system. The later stages are outside the scope of the book and would be carried out by the associated Seed Factory Project.
The conceptual design 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. Our concept is incomplete at present, so the details in the book only represent what has been done so far.