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Why are we obsessed with going straight to the Nanometer-scale? Lets do it gradually.
The factory has initially one purpose: to replicate itself into a smaller size next to itself. Perhaps each time 50% smaller.
This will be done in a flexible manner; the factory is a very extensive, elaborate
and all encompassing tool shop, fitted with all the machines needed to replicate itself. Us humans are not inside the factory we just deliver the raw material. To control all these machines we use remote control via the radio waves. To see what we need to see, we have cameras. The machines are similar to current types, like the lathe and the mill machine. But we also need a foundry, a rolling mill, etc, etc. Robots (incl. cleaning machines) will move any material from machine to machine.
Building the next (smaller) generation of the factory is not an identical clone of the one before, but is adjusted for the different size. The engineering requires different design because of scaling. (See link). Compare this with the fact that an ant can carry more than its own weight, but an elephant cannot. Air gets comparatively thicker.
I guess it will take some time to build the next factory. But the equipment already exists today on the 1:1 scale, so lets start!
And then, finally
somewhere along, moving down the scale (with a factory of the size of a shoebox), we might find it handy to produce something else
like a machine that removes the wrinkles out of your clothes, so that you do not have to iron. And then when the factory is small enough, perhaps we can create a tiny tiny machine that cleans your zits (or cleans your nose). Our plants may also benefit from this: lets build a miniature (not so) natural enemy of the lice, and with remote control and VR we let our youth control the machine and fight the big bastards.
Replicating robotic complex
Replicating, but not downscaling [spekkie, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]
About the physics of scaling (and ants) [spekkie, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]
||I suspect Godel might have something to say about this....
||This has been done in SF, but generally it's robots that do it, not factories. And it ignores several basic principles of physics, as spekkie notes, so it can't really replicate itself on a smaller scale.
||Well, he might have. Maybe he left Hofstadter with power of attorney.
||Say Machine 1:1 has a .1% inaccuracy in one of its machinations. Machine 1:10 will have 1%, 1:100 will have 10% and machine 1:1000 will have 100% inaccuracy in that machination. Also, square machines will have a lot of trouble creating round machines, so each machine must be a smaller version of its parent until the desired size is reached, A foot tall zit-cleaner seems too ridiculus to be easily created. (0)