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#1 2018-08-01 10:07:45

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 2,903
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Technology trees and toolchains

Branching off from the self-replication colony thread, I'd like to talk about what technological prerequisites are required to do and build certain things. What out technology tree looks like, if you will, or what toolchains are required to go from raw materials to a finished product.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_tree
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toolchain

As an example, most (almost all?) things we use today either include steel, or involve steel tools at some point in their manufacture. So steel production is an essential prerequisite for the modern world. To produce steel, you need the raw materials of iron oxide and carbon (either coke or charcoal), plus a flux, typically limestone. These are then combined in a furnace to produce pig iron, which is later processed further to acquire pure iron for alloying. The iron oxide and limestone has to be mined, whilst the carbon can be acquired by heating wood (which of course has to be logged). The furnace is itself made from iron and lined with clay, plus a bellows system to drive air through it. The pig iron produced by this process can then be de-carbonised by blowing air through the molten iron, which can then be alloyed with other elements to produce steel. The tools used in this process will typically be made out of steel themselves.

So to produce carbon steel you need:

  • Iron Oxide (mined)

  • Limestone (quarried)

  • Charcoal (produced from wood that is grown)

  • A furnace (built from iron and clay)

  • A converter to produce pure iron (same requirements as the furnace?)

That gets you steel. You then need tools to turn that steel into more tools.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#2 2018-08-01 10:24:57

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 2,903
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Re: Technology trees and toolchains

I posted that I think the ability to manufacture a motorbike requires a large number of technological abilities that can be used to manufacture a great many other things. Reposting Josh's response (geared towards Mars, but I'd like to focus on this thread on Terra, since it's the only one we have experience with - and other environments won't be much different).

JoshNH4H wrote:
Terraformer wrote:

What key technologies are needed to build a motorbike? What elements and compounds? How many people are needed to build one from the raw materials - and by raw, I'm talking about ores here, not the refined materials.

I like this one, let's look at it.

A motorbike is basically two things: An internal combustion engine hooked up to a frame that can be comfortably ridden by a passenger.

Let's look at the internal combustion engine first.  The engine exists inside an engine block, which so far as I know is generally cast from a single piece of steel.  Within the engine block you have the cylinders, plus various bearings and shafts and such, plus also O-rings to hold in the pressure.

Most of these are made from various kinds of steel.  I don't know what the particular alloy choices are, and there's definitely going to be a few different ones based on the particular needs for each particular choice.  At a guess there'll also be a bit of Aluminium as a heat transfer element.

I don't claim to know what the "correct" way to do this is, but every motorcycle I can think of runs on a hydrocarbon combined with air.  On Mars, this probably means some kind of synthetic hydrocarbon (perhaps methane) combined with compressed air. 

It's important that it not be just compressed oxygen: The Nitrogen in Earth's atmosphere serves to lower the maximum temperature, which reduces the thermal stress and wear on the combustion cylinders, which otherwise might reach temperatures around (or above) 3000 K.  For reference the maximum service temperature of most steels is below 600 C (the steel can be cooler than the combustion gases but a 2400 K temperature differential is probably impossible).  You might replace compressed air with compressed or liquid oxygen and liquid CO2 as a dilutant.

On this note, it's important to note that there are actually two thermodynamic cycles used in internal combustion engines, the Diesel cycle and the Otto cycle.  The two cycles use somewhat different fuels but the biggest difference is that in the Diesel cycle the heat from compressing the gas causes the fuel to ignite while in the Otto Cycle the ignition source is external, usually spark plugs.  Because the gas is compressed and cold to begin with, this ICE will use the Otto Cycle.  To the best of my knowledge most motorcycles use that anyway.

So you also need spark plugs.  Spark plugs are mostly made from steel and ceramic (usually aluminium oxide), but the sparking elements are usually made from a special alloy designed to withstand particularly high temperatures and the presence of hot oxygen while also being conductive.  For a cheap plug with poor performance and a short lifetime you can use copper, but these days expensive noble metals are used more often.  The actual amount of metal involved is quite small though, in general you can import from Earth (or stockpile in the event of an emergency) or use copper for poor lifetime and performance.

You also need a rubber material (for pressure seals and O-rings) and lubricant.  There's a lot of options.  I talked about it a bit in this thread where I think I settled on silicones for both.  I don't necessarily stand by that but it's certainly an option, along with more traditional polymers and oils like we use on Earth.  It's worth pointing out that polybutadiene (the most common kind of synthetic rubber) can be produced indirectly from ethanol.  It's a little hard to synthesize the long-change hydrocarbons in oils from scratch but it can be done.  You can also get oils from plants (I have a mechanical set of clippers that I lubricate with olive oil--this may not be advisable) but that seems expensive.

The spark plugs are powered by electromagnetic transformers that increase the voltage to enable electric arcing, which presumably are made mostly from copper, iron, and ribber insulation.  In general electrical applications you can replace copper with aluminium for a loss in conductance.

The frame is a bit more amorphous and flexible.  It can be made from any number of materials, generally has rubber tires (but metal frame would work too), usually has some sort of shocks (often containing pneumatics or hydraulics as shocks, but springs would work too).  The engine controls can be purely mechanical if you want them to.

So, as far as base materials go, you need Steel (various alloys, with alloying elements certainly including carbon and perhaps including nickel, manganese, and chromium), perhaps copper, nickel, platinum, or iridium, Alumina, Aluminium, rubber, lubricant, some sort of fuel and oxidizer.

Aluminium comes from Bauxite on Earth, which you get from bodies of water leeching aluminium oxide from the rock and precipitating it elsewhere.  I don't know if there's bauxite on Mars.  It's a good bet that there's probably a passable Aluminium ore--somewhere--but I'm not sure where.

Iron comes from various iron oxide ores.  Average Martian regolith would be considered a low-grade Iron ore on Earth, so it's a good bet that you can find regions with higher, ore-grade purity.  We don't know where though.

Carbon and many rubbers (including polybutadiene) can be produced from derivatives of CO2 and water.

If you can avoid using any special steels (probably at the cost of a shorter component lifetime and worse performance) all you need that's hard to get is a few fractions of a gram of noble metal, plus the (heavy, expensive) equipment to process it down to materials, components, assemblies, and products, and I think you've got yourself a motorcycle.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#3 2018-08-01 10:30:19

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 2,903
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Re: Technology trees and toolchains

A useful link if you want to know what one person can do with the resources they can find around them in nature - https://primitivetechnology.wordpress.com/


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#4 2018-08-01 16:50:55

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
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Re: Technology trees and toolchains

Some great links there - thanks.

My comments would be (as I am sure you realise) you can't easily read across from Earth to Mars on materials requirements.  Calicium (what's required in steel production) is rare on Mars. I don't think any of the rovers have come across it yet.  You might be reliant on meteorite deposits.  But then you need to ask - what part is calcium playing in steel production? Could anything else stand in?  Likewise with copper, also rare on Mars - there are alternatives to copper for conductive wiring.

One thing I would add: whilst manufacturing advanced products is mind-blowingly complex, it is something that computers can easily cope with. Not just that but at each "node" in the process computers can store all the relevant plans and guidance videos to show Mars colonists how to produce the desired results.


Let's Go to Mars...Google on: Fast Track to Mars blogspot.com

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#5 2018-08-02 13:35:17

JoshNH4H
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Re: Technology trees and toolchains

One thing about the internal combustion engine that I really like is that the setup of the ICE is fairly similar to that of a vacuum pump or gas compressor.  I don't think you could design any machine that was effective in all three functions but if you have the technology to make an ICE you pretty much get the other two as a bonus


-Josh

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#6 2018-08-02 14:51:09

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 2,903
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Re: Technology trees and toolchains

...and with a gas compressor, you can build a refrigerator. One of the most important inventions of the last 200 years.

Has anyone tried making an entire new machine shop using an existing one? Obviously it wouldn't be able to use anything electronic - not until we have desktop chip fabs that take in silicon and turn it into microchips - but it should be able to use electric motors, if it can produce the wire needed.

What are the basic metalworking processes we need? Extrusion, wire drawing, casting etc.

What are some basic chemical processes and chemicals we need for a chemical industry? We're already talking about Sulfuric Acid. What about plastic synthesis? Ethene can be produced from ethanol, which we've been producing for... a very long time. It's fairly easy to distil.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#7 2018-08-02 17:04:25

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 4,037

Re: Technology trees and toolchains

I recall previous discussions where some have claimed that extrusion makes plastics production especially difficult.  But such claims normally prove erroneous - there are often other ways of producing the same product and it isn't very often that you can't scale down.

Here's a helpful list of the top ten industrial chemicals on Earth...

https://www.dummies.com/education/scien … chemicals/

If you were formulating an industrial development plan for a Mars community (as part of a wider colony development plan) you'd need to draw up a list of target outcomes and then go through all the industrial processes and industrial chemicals and see what was required to meet those essential targets. The targets would cover stuff like hab construction, agricultural development, transport and industrial machine production. Obviously you would make use of expert panels to guide your choices.

I think the profile of industrial chemical usage on Mars would be quite different from that on Earth.  Clearly on Mars, industrial chemicals won't be servicing a huge hydrocarbon sector. The chemicals used in paper production and recycling will not be required for those processes.  Also, Mars is not going to be pandering to human vanity whether it's a chrome finish, internal or external decor of homes, plastic nails, or whatever. Things will be much more utilitarian.  We may also find it's easier to grow some crops e.g. bamboo that can be used in a lot of functions currently taken by plastics or metal in Europe and N America. Likewise it might be easier to grow oil-producing crops of various kinds rather than produce synthetic oil. The advantage in agriculture is that you have ready-made "mini factories" that do it all for you without requiring direct labour input. That's important in an environment where there will be a chronic labour shortage.


Terraformer wrote:

...and with a gas compressor, you can build a refrigerator. One of the most important inventions of the last 200 years.

Has anyone tried making an entire new machine shop using an existing one? Obviously it wouldn't be able to use anything electronic - not until we have desktop chip fabs that take in silicon and turn it into microchips - but it should be able to use electric motors, if it can produce the wire needed.

What are the basic metalworking processes we need? Extrusion, wire drawing, casting etc.

What are some basic chemical processes and chemicals we need for a chemical industry? We're already talking about Sulfuric Acid. What about plastic synthesis? Ethene can be produced from ethanol, which we've been producing for... a very long time. It's fairly easy to distil.

Last edited by louis (2018-08-02 17:05:53)


Let's Go to Mars...Google on: Fast Track to Mars blogspot.com

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#8 2018-08-02 17:42:56

SpaceNut
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Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 13,356

Re: Technology trees and toolchains

Refrigerators on mars will not use a compressor it will be a loop of tubing to the outside and one internal to the to the unit with a pump to move a working fluid that does not freeze to form a heat exchanger. Cycle the pump to move the cold fluid into the refridge and blow the air through it to cool the inside.

Use common processes to simplify one product to the next.

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#9 2018-08-02 18:11:59

louis
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From: UK
Registered: 2008-03-24
Posts: 4,037

Re: Technology trees and toolchains

I use the example of glass receptacles. On Earth there must be literally millions of different shaped receptacles used in thousands of different contexts e.g. perfume, drinking liquid holders, food storage containers, vases, chemical dispensers etc. That vast number could certainly be reduced down to a few hundred standardised receptacles in terms of utility, which could be produced with nearly 100% automation and which would save the Mars community hundreds of thousands of hours of labour.

SpaceNut wrote:

Refrigerators on mars will not use a compressor it will be a loop of tubing to the outside and one internal to the to the unit with a pump to move a working fluid that does not freeze to form a heat exchanger. Cycle the pump to move the cold fluid into the refridge and blow the air through it to cool the inside.

Use common processes to simplify one product to the next.


Let's Go to Mars...Google on: Fast Track to Mars blogspot.com

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#10 2018-08-03 10:28:01

Terraformer
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From: Lancashire
Registered: 2007-08-27
Posts: 2,903
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Re: Technology trees and toolchains

louis,

What are you talking about Mars for? Please don't drag this thread off topic. If I wanted to focus specifically on Mars, I would have put it in the LIfe Support forum, or Economy.

As far as automation goes, forget it. As I said, until we have desktop chip fabs, a machine shop using automation can't be self replicating.


"I guarantee you that at some point, everything's going to go south on you, and you're going to say, 'This is it, this is how I end.' Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work." - Mark Watney

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#11 2018-08-03 16:46:18

SpaceNut
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From: New Hampshire
Registered: 2004-07-22
Posts: 13,356

Re: Technology trees and toolchains

Louis wrote:

I use the example of glass receptacles. On Earth there must be literally millions of different shaped receptacles used in thousands of different contexts e.g. perfume, drinking liquid holders, food storage containers, vases, chemical dispensers etc. That vast number could certainly be reduced down to a few hundred standardised receptacles in terms of utility, which could be produced with nearly 100% automation and which would save the Mars community hundreds of thousands of hours of labour.

Not really what I was looking to do in reducing diversity of product. Think back to the initial category and I will remove the product that we are trying to make.

Simplified mined, quarried, something needed from a processed growth, heat source light to high, method needed to create finished product

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