5.0 - Personal Production

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This section (pages 5.0 through 5.6) and the notes in section 9.0 comprise our first example in how to start a Seed Factory design. It is for a starter set which can grow to supply hobby and home improvement outputs for the owners, which we call Personal Production. It is an "example by doing" of an actual proposed project, and not just a theoretical textbook example. It follows the design concepts and processes described earlier in the book. 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 purposes and main features of the Personal Production example. The following pages and sections then follow the steps in the design process and show how we arrive at this result.

  • Purposes - A Personal Production location, once expanded, is intended to deliver products for hobby and home improvement use by a community of owner/operators 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. We set a goal of eventually meeting 25% by value of people's needs on average, on a part-time work basis. At this level it is not intended to replace conventional jobs, but rather function as a supplement. Most of the outputs are intended to be used by the owners, although some may be sold or traded to other people. Sales and trade can help pay for materials and parts that can't be made internally.
Even though the production scale is small, the total cost of the initial equipment set is likely too high for one individual, and multiple skills are needed to operate the equipment. Therefore we expect to need multiple owners. We also expect that the owners will not be able to house all the equipment at home, and therefore eventually need a shared workshop space. Different ownership methods are possible. The equipment may be owned by all the community members as a cooperative or by shares. Alternately, different items may be owned by individuals or groups, who coordinate the operation as a whole. The community 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.

  • Rationale - The reasons for people to build and operate a seed factory at this scale include that automated production can supply hobby and home needs with less cost and labor than conventional methods, and as owners they can control what is made according to their needs. Additional reasons are potentially fast growth rates when considered as an investments, and a better resulting quality of life.
Why we selected personal production 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. This example can also serve to gain experience with seed factories in general, and serve as a starting point for growth to larger scales and more locations.
Figure 5.0-1. Personal Production evolution.

  • Evolution - The Personal Production location evolves over a period of time from a "Seed Factory". 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.
The seed factory equipment is used to make growth equipment in a logical 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 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.
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.
When the Personal Production location reaches the capacity goals, 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 choices would be beyond the scope of the current project example.

  • Project Management - The Personal Production project is 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 location, since they are more affected by such decisions than non-local owners.

Figure 5.0-2. Relative land areas for evolved production.
  • Land - The project requires land for a number of purposes. Figure 5.0-2 shows the estimated land areas for an 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 location is fully developed, distributed across the Atlanta area we chose for this example.
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. 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. 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.

  • Energy - The project also requires 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.

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.