This site has looked at the technologies of a Mundane Singularity which looks at the fastest ways to get to higher rates of economic growth and wealth. Several of the technologies relate to construction that is over ten times faster and vastly improved robotics for factories and transportation. A new transformation of factories will use the most advanced technologies to enable greater economies of scale while still enabling customization and modifications and efficient changes to product lines. Advanced robotics and artificial intelligence will be needed to remove the logistical complexity of operations with unprecedented scale.
There are opportunities for greater economies of scale annual smartphone sales go from one billion to four billion and with the emergence of the global middle class. There were 1.8 billion in the global middle class in 2009. The projections are for 3.2 billion in the global middle class in 2020 and 4.9 billion in 2030.
There was also a recent detailed cost analysis which found that the biggest factor contributing to China’s ability to make solar panels for about 23 percent less than U.S. companies turned out to be economies of scale. Typical Chinese PV factories are four times larger than those in the United States, the study found. That leads to economies in several ways: Those factories can negotiate better contracts with suppliers. Also, their manufacturing equipment can be used more efficiently, since machines can be scheduled to run more of the time by allowing flexibility in matching up the production rates of machines at different stages in the process.
The key to making solar panels competitive is to bring the cost of installed panels to a level competitive with the current cost of electricity from the grid, without subsidies or tax benefits. Once that goal is achieved — which the researchers estimate will likely occur by the end of the decade — then much larger PV factories will become economically viable worldwide.
There are several technologies which will enable larger and more productive factories to be built. These will capture even larger economies of scale while still enabling flexibility and rapid modification of products and product lines.
1. Broad Group skyscrapers (factory mass production of skyscrapers and other buildings that are built faster and at lower cost. China has also been able to make factories with millions of square feet of area in a few months.)
2. Automated transportation (leading to robotic cars and planes)
3. Robotics (like the company Foxconn -builder of iPhones – making millions of new factory robots)
4. Pro-growth Policies (like China putting $175 billion over ten years from 2010-2020 to build a 130 square-kilometer Haiyan Nuclear Power City It is the first industrial park in China to help with the rapid development of the country’s nuclear power industry. The Nuclear City is expected to have four main areas of work: development of the nuclear power equipment manufacturing industry; nuclear training and education; applied nuclear science industries (medical, agricultural, radiation detection and tracing); and promotion of the nuclear industry.)
6 .Unconventional computing – quantum computers, neuromorphic chips, photonics, AI, memristors
7. Sensors everywhere
China appears willing to invest hundreds of billions to transform cities with sizes over one hundred square kilometers in area and create integrated mega factory zones.
There are several products which appear to be likely targets for megafactory zone scaling
– nuclear power for China to mass produce increasingly modular nuclear reactors
– commercial buildings
– solar power panels (China’s factories are already four times larger than western solar power factories)
– smartphones, tablets and computer components
This would be a counter trend to the desktop 3D printing.
The city sized factory would continue the trend towards larger factories, cheap transportation and supply chains that end in the big box store.
3D printing and additive manufacturing will need to prove sustainable benefits from being able to produce things on site instead of waiting a day for something that is 2 to 4 times cheaper.
In North America only about 5 percent of the cost of goods is attributable to transportation costs, on average, but in Latin America that figure is as high as 25 percent. Improving the efficiency of supply chains could cut the cost of consumer goods, improving the standard of living.
The products that have a global market still seem likely to have a hyperefficient and superscale centralized production. Eliminating economies of scale is not just in the manufacturing aspect but in the supply chain and buying power of the large producer.
Robotic Warehouse Distribution Centers of Today
Advanced robotics, process and logistical improvement have enable already advanced warehouses to move from 160 units per hour person to 1000 units per hour per person.
Sensor tags will help organize the mega factory and make it easier for robots and overall real time tracking
Thinfilm is putting printed wireless transmitters together with existing printed logic, memory, sensor, and battery systems on product packaging. This will be commercialized in 2014 with Bemis. Bemis, a Wisconsin packaging company, makes 200 billion packages a year for meat, cheese, medical devices, and personal care products.
Upgrade on the Fly and Dynamic Routing
Tesla has a 5 million square foot plant. They have robotic platforms (like a stripped down robotic car) that moves the partially assembled car from station to station. Here is a picture where the car is brought to the bumper and the workers who will put it on.
This means you can change the routing of the car production process in real time. You get the new station that does a different bumper process ready and then when it is ready you route over to the new station. Dynamic routing lets you have a highly flexible build process and enables easy upgrades of machines and robots.
The already large warehouse distribution nodes and large existing factories show that upgrades and flexibility are not hampered by the size of the factory or warehouse.
Without the robotic car-like transportation system this flexibility would not be possible. Heavy lift robotic cars and drones will enable pieces to moved around the factory city.
Heavy lift carrier drones will enable larger parts to be moved around the factory city at higher speeds and between different levels.
I know that naturalists and some environmentalists will not like this. This is where advanced technology is harnessed to enable greater productivity and a new massive scale of industry.
Things will be faster, bigger and more complex and yet more productive, efficient and lower cost.
Wikipedia – In microeconomics, economies of scale are the cost advantages that enterprises obtain due to size, with cost per unit of output generally decreasing with increasing scale as fixed costs are spread out over more units of output. Often operational efficiency is also greater with increasing scale, leading to lower variable cost as well.
Wikipedia – Economies of scope are conceptually similar to economies of scale. Whereas economies of scale for a firm primarily refers to reductions in the average cost (cost per unit) associated with increasing the scale of production for a single product type, economies of scope refers to lowering the average cost for a firm in producing two or more products.
Wikipedia – Diseconomies of scale are the forces that cause larger firms and governments to produce goods and services at increased per-unit costs. This is where new technology and process innovations are needed to continue lowering average cost while still increasing the scale of the operation.
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Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.