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Social Implications of Local Fabrication

Reposted from the CubeSpawn site
As the title implies, there is more to local fabrication than meets the eye.

How would things change (meaning society in general) if local fabrication became the predominant form of production? This is speculative, but some likely consequences emerge:
Converting to local fabrication has at least four potential impacts,

• Improved economic independence
• Significant local recycling
• Greatly reduced carbon footprint
• Improved standard of living

As things stand today, you can go to the local retailer and buy almost anything you want, at relatively low cost.

In most cases, quality is also low, but if something breaks, you can get a replacement at low cost, so quality is perceived to be less of an issue than it once was. But, when examined from a different perspective, this frequent purchasing of low quality goods makes people very vulnerable to economic changes over which they have no control, if an economic downturn occurs, then the need to frequently replace the low quality goods is still present, even if the resources to purchase those goods is absent.

Local fabrication addresses this in the following way: high to moderate quality goods can be produced locally as a function of availability of raw materials and energy, if recycling is heavily employed, then the need for both landfill space and raw materials both drop dramatically, local transportation replaces international shipping, and the goods, by lasting longer, reduce the need for rapid consumer cycles, but if you want a new couch every six months, then be prepared to pay a little more for power.

The synthetic fabrics used to make the example couch must be recyclable, then you simply trade the “old” one back to the facility and pick out a new one. The cost is the difference in materials, and the power to process them.

Farfetched? No more so than the current process where parts are made all over the planet shipped around SEVERAL TIMES, until the finished product is completed, which is then shipped several times from distribution to warehouses to retailers to you. And only a small percentage of the resulting trash is recycled.

If the whole cycle took place locally the energy saved by not hauling things all over the place would more than offset the energy needed to make (or re-make) it locally. Combine that with digital fabrication and automation and the current model looks foolish indeed.

All of these assumptions are based on several trends, like product recyclability.

Anything intended for local fabrication needs to be engineered for its eventual disassembly and reclamation.

Materials recyclability, designing things out of a range of materials that meet the need, but not every material under the sun – a focus on limiting part counts, standardizing materials, and modularizing common goods, could make this a very efficient process – while having a minimal impact, or none at all on reducing choices.

There is an equal likelihood that the dramatic reduction of both material costs and manufacturing costs, could make goods available to a wider range of people – since income is no longer the determinant of what is available to whom. The possibility also arises that landfills could be cleaned up – as they are the new mines of the future – with robotic harvesters doing the uglier parts of the process.

Q: So when will these marvels and wonders be ready?

A: Never, unless we start. The time to start is now, and it will take many years until this transitions from incomplete idea to ubiqitous system and fades into the background of everyday life.

Our current system will seem as foreign to people then, as life in the 1950’s would seem to the internet dwellers of today with its written letters, telegrams, high charges for long distance calling, commie threat, no space program and so on.

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