Nanotech Scenario Series
PRESS RELEASE: MARCH 30, 2005
Manufacturing: Step by Step
nanotechnology—molecular manufacturing—will bring
both on an unprecedented scale. A
paper published by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology suggests that
molecular manufacturing can be an incremental process from today's
capabilities, and may not be as distant as many believe.
manufacturing has always had great promise, but as a single challenge, it has
seemed intimidating,” says
Chris Phoenix, CRN’s Director of Research and author of the paper.
problem down into stages shows that it can be achieved step by step.”
Three stages for the development of molecular manufacturing, each with specific
milestones, are identified in the paper. The first stage is the
computer-controlled fabrication of precise molecular structures. The second
stage uses nanoscale tools to build more tools, enabling exponential growth of
the manufacturing base. The third stage, which integrates nanoscale products
into large structures, leads directly to desktop "nanofactories"
that could build advanced products.
Distributed general-purpose integrated manufacturing of high-performance
products has many potential impacts. Production of weapons, various forms of
vice, and intellectual property violations would be difficult to regulate.
Clumsy regulatory attempts could create an intractable black market
infrastructure. The easing of logistic constraints could have military
implications, as could sudden advances in robotics and aerospace. If used widely
enough, a shift in industrial use of raw materials and location of manufacture
could affect resource production and international trade patterns.
On the positive side, large-scale use of inexpensive but highly sophisticated
technology could quickly replace inefficient or missing infrastructure. Advanced
components and materials could make space access cheaper and easier. Rapid
prototyping and production of nanoscale devices could be a boon to
medical research and
Mike Treder, Executive Director of CRN, says, “Because both the risks and
the benefits of molecular manufacturing are so great, and because it can be
developed step-by-step from today’s technologies, it is urgent that we gain a
better understanding of the timetable, the capabilities, and the actual
“Although the most
transformative and dangerous results rely on the most advanced stage of
development, success in earlier stages could lead to surprisingly rapid
development of the more advanced capabilities. There are several specific areas
of study that can improve our understanding of the potential of
molecular manufacturing. These studies can and
should be initiated today.”