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DARPA Pays $3.5 Million For New TechShops and Secret Reconfigurable Factories

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the redesigning-construction-methods dept.

The Military 116

pacopico writes "Businessweek reports that DARPA will pay for the creation of two new TechShops in Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. The $3.5 million deal includes 2,000 TechShop memberships for military veterans and will have DARPA employees performing top secret work at night. 'The project is called iFab. For a month, a given factory might use dozens of machines to make parts for helicopters. Then you reboot the software controlling the machines, and out come the parts for the drive train system in a tank. The Darpa workers at TechShop will try to figure out which tools and methods can be used to rewire factories in this fashion.' Maker mayhem."

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116 comments

Hmmm (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093153)

Is this a hedge in case China decides to stop making shit for the US? Or plain ol' pork?

Re:Hmmm (1)

Moheeheeko (1682914) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093191)

Probably B disguised as A

Re:Hmmm (3, Insightful)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093429)

Is this a hedge in case China decides to stop making shit for the US? Or plain ol' pork?

Probably B disguised as A

I'm thinking, probably Plan A disguised as Plan B. DARPA people are pretty damned clever. They know how to play that favorite of all gameshows on the Hill, 'The Appropriations Game'.

Re:Hmmm (3, Informative)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093197)

Yeah, after all, the US only exports $1.5 trillion dollars worth of good every year. Just the second largest exporter in the world (second to China, despite having less than 1/3 the population). Yeah, the US doesn't make anything these days.

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093331)

how much of that is the output from refineries?

Re:Hmmm (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093441)

A lot.

How much of the remainder is food? I hear ADM is having a record year...

Re:Hmmm (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093549)

Very good points.

I'm fairly certain I could make due without cheap throw-away electronics for the rest of my life.

Food and oil...not so much.

Re:Hmmm (1)

GodInHell (258915) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094097)

But could you do without cheap missile guidance systems for very long if we actually go to the bad place with China?

Re:Hmmm (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 2 years ago | (#40095563)

Military equipment is all made in the US, and it's also the largest arms exporter in the world by a wide margin...

Re:Hmmm (1)

MasaMuneCyrus (779918) | about 2 years ago | (#40099383)

No, it's not. In Indiana, we had a company--Magnequench--that manufactured high-powered magnets required for advanced US missiles. For whatever reason, US regulators let a Chinese company buy it under the promise that they would keep the factory running. What a surprise, the Chinese shut down Indiana manufacturing facilities and moved operations to China. This happened several years ago, and it's hardly the only case of this happening. We are hanging ourselves for short-term profits.

Re:Hmmm (1)

DocSavage64109 (799754) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093705)

So... the US is like the Texas+Kansas of the world?

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093495)

50%. The other 50% of exports is green paper.

Re:Hmmm (1)

GumphMaster (772693) | about 2 years ago | (#40097513)

Yep, and the imports outstrip that. For the three months to March good and services imports averaged $233 gigabucks and exports averaged $183.1. With China in March imports outstripped exports by $21.7 gigabucks. That said, secret-squirrel-shit, ITAR restricted or bespoke components for military equipment are unlikely to be imported, even from allies.

Source: FT900: U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services [census.gov]

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40098697)

Pity most of the exports are of or related to the exploding killing civilian type.

Re:Hmmm (3, Insightful)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093215)

It's DARPA, so neither really. Just them doing things to see if they can, which is 99% of what DARPA does. Also encouraging innovation and experimentation... which again, is what DARPA is all about.

Re:Hmmm (1)

GodInHell (258915) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094115)

And thank God for them. Someone has to invest in the U.S. with a sight-line longer than three quarters down the road.

Re:Hmmm (4, Informative)

SirGarlon (845873) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093341)

No, it's applied research to advance the state of manufacturing. It looks like a natural step in the movement toward just-in-time manufacturing and supply-chain efficiency, probably aimed at replacement parts rather than whole vehicles and equipment. They apparently want the ability to retool factories for military production much as was done in WWII, only faster and more selectively hopefully on a much smaller scale. So instead of shutting down car production to make tanks, industry will be able to make tanks on one shift and keep making cars for the other two (for example).

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093405)

Pork. You're not going to be making very good/safe helicopter or tank parts out of industrial-grade aluminum/steel using a beat up "tech shop" CNC mill..

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093933)

You're not going to be making very good/safe helicopter or tank parts out of industrial-grade aluminum/steel using a beat up "tech shop" CNC mill..

That's a good argument for not buying from India or China.

Re:Hmmm (3, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094105)

Yes, but there are a ton of things that many factories can be re-tooled to make in a hurry.
The amount of military gear rapidly farmed out to general industry in world war 2 is amazing.
Even Singer Sewing Machines company produced Norton Bomb sights and rifle parts.

Just about any big steel fabrication plant can produce trucks, and light armored vehicles,
and any electronics fab can be cut over to producing battle field electronics, and aircraft
avionics.

There far more to military gear than helicopters and tanks.

The combat rifles of WWII for US forces were produced by many different companies.

M-1 CARBINES MANUFACTURED DURING WWII

Rock-Ola Music Corporation (ROCK-OLA)
Standard Products (STANDARD PRODUCTS)
International Business Machines (IBM)
Quality Hardware (QUALITY HARDWARE)
National Postal Meter (NATIONAL POSTER METER)
Saginaw (SAGINAW DIVISION,GENERAL MOTORS)S.G.
Saginaw (Grand Rapids) S'G'
Underwood-Elliot-Fisher (UNDERWOOD)
Winchester (WINCHESTER)
Inland (INLAND DIVISION, GENERAL MOTORS

Re:Hmmm (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40098195)

Norton Bomb sights

Are you running Norden Antivirus?

Re:Hmmm (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093437)

Once you level the playing field with automation, the hordes of cheap Chinese labor are less of an advantage.

The ideal would be reconfigurable, lights-out manufacturing.

The Chinese couldn't compete because of shipping costs.

Re:Hmmm (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093587)

'level playing field with automation' is ignorant. have you SEEN how things are assembled in china? its mostly by hand.

if they could do it with machines, they would. machines don't jump to their death or complain or work slower at night.

they use people because, even in today's world, people are still needed to build things and robots are just not the answer to ALL manuf challenges.

we'll never compete with china as long as it takes people to build things. and it does.

Re:Hmmm (2)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093829)

They build things by hand because the electronics industry moves too fast to set up automated production lines. This research aims to end that.

Re:Hmmm (2)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094629)

Did you know the codename for the research? They're still trying to decide between "Screamer" and "Skynet" :)

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40095537)

> if they could do it with machines, they would.

I figured even if they could do it with machines, they wouldn't, because mass unemployment in a country of a billion+ could be a tad politically unstable.

Re:Hmmm (1)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 2 years ago | (#40096065)

Establishing the production facility with people is far cheaper as well as obviously retooling, also when they loose a contract, they can readily switch over to another product. As China shifts to manufacturing for the local market with self produced branded products so the increase in automation will occur. Consider the cost of a $50,000.00 or more machine versus training a disposable person. Until those disposable people decide that they are no longer disposable they will continue to be exploited. Labour reform was not given in the west, people died to achieve it.

Re:Hmmm (2)

couchslug (175151) | about 2 years ago | (#40099519)

"have you SEEN how things are assembled in china? its mostly by hand."

Just because they do it by hand now doesn't make that the end-all solution.

Stihl is producing chainsaw bars within a few percent of ChiCom cost in their US plants.

As US labor costs drop (BMW in SC already exports Bimmers to China) and we leverage automation, the Chinese edge will be blunted.

The Chinese will always have the shipping barrier of the Pacific to contend with.

Re:Hmmm (1)

lgw (121541) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094865)

The playing field has been leveled with automation for decades. China is losing jobs to automation faster than they're gaining them to outsourcing. Manufacturing output in the US has been flat or rising for decades, despite the fall-off of manufacturing jobs, because that's what technology does

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40095815)

this concept has been applied many places in asia already in tech fabs, retooling to make devices with less deadspace/downtime. fortunately for every factory saved in the usa alone there will be at least a 100 small towns destroyed by wal-mart which then shuts down an entire city.

am i supposed to welcome our robo-overloads now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093159)

no! screw you overloads, viva la resistance!

Gearing up for war??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093195)

The only time you need factories like this is n preparation for a global conflict.

Is the DoD expecting WWIII?

Re:Gearing up for war??? (4, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093255)

"Factories like this" being quickly reconfigurable to manufacture a variety of products? You don't see any potential commercial uses for that? Do you really not understand the push toward manufacturing on demand?

Re:Gearing up for war??? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093291)

DARPA is not in the business of commercial enterprise. These are weapons factories.

War is coming...

Re:Gearing up for war??? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093559)

Nonsense. The occupant of the White House has a "D" after his name. They are for peace, after all.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093597)

They are for anything that makes a buck.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093765)

Yep, nothing DARPA has ever put money into has ever been licensed for commercial use. Everything they put money into is immediately used for war. Seriously? I'm could come up with a nice long list of links for products that are used commercially today that were originally funded by DARPA and a much longer list of DARPA sponsored projects that never came to fruition at all, let alone ever got used by the military.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093947)

Like the internet...oh wait....continuous cyber-warfare...

Hey, they even created new spaces in warfare!!!!

Re:Gearing up for war??? (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40095201)

But the technologies involved do have civilian applications. I'm thinking just-in-time manufacturing, small-lot manufacturing, boutique manufacturing, that sort of thing.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097119)

War is coming...

Of course it is. Not much of an observation since there's always a bunch of wars going at any point in time.

My take is that someone in the US government is exploring ways to deal with the foreign supplier problem and other supply disruptions. For example, in any military dispute (not necessarily including outright war) between China and the US, it's going to be a no-brainer for China and allies to withhold goods that are important to the US military. Then such a factory can compensate for that supply disruption. Or as in the case of the Iraqi invasion, a monopoly supplier of small arms ammunition simply couldn't keep up. Such factories might be quickly retooled to cover supply problems (until traditional manufacturers can enter).

Yes, there are obvious military applications here. I don't see it as an important piece of some US plan of war however, unlike say the widening of the Kiel Canal prior to the First World War was for the German military (which was instrumental in German naval planning since the largest German ships couldn't otherwise use the canal, a serious vulnerability in case of war).

Re:Gearing up for war??? (1)

El Torico (732160) | about 2 years ago | (#40098139)

War is either always coming, happening, or just ended.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (3, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093459)

"The only time you need factories like this is n preparation for a global conflict."

If there were a prize for "Absurd Asserted Conclusion", your post would win it.

Foxconn reconfigures by issuing orders to hordes of expensive workers.

US manufacturing could reconfigure taking advantage of technology, and negate the Chinese labor advantage.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (3, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093607)

Foxconn reconfigures by issuing orders to hordes of expensive workers.

Expensive workers? When did Foxconn leave China?

Re:Gearing up for war??? (2)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093843)

The human COST is far more then the sum of wages.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40095279)

If they could pull a FANUC and go to lights-out manufacturing, they would.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40097817)

US manufacturing could reconfigure taking advantage of technology, and negate the Chinese labor advantage.

Still too expensive, might interfere with Corporation Profit Rights. Romney has the preferred solution - reduce US worker wages to or below the level of the Chinese workers.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (3, Insightful)

Infernal Device (865066) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093491)

The only time you need factories like this is n preparation for a global conflict.

Is the DoD expecting WWIII?

That's kind of their job. Expect the worst, hope for the best.

These are the guys who make contingency plans for just about everything, so on some level, yes, they probably are expecting WWIII.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40094787)

Planning is one thing...constructing weapons factories, a role normally fulfilled by enterprise, suggests something quite different.

Re:Gearing up for war??? (1)

shiftless (410350) | more than 2 years ago | (#40095183)

Is the DoD expecting WWIII?

Yes.

I keep reading but... (1)

bigredradio (631970) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093229)

Haven't got to the article yet, but in the summary I keep reading...

Then you reboot the software controlling the machines, and out come the parts for the drive train system in a tank.

I still don't get what a reboot has to do with this. Is it running Windows?

Re:I keep reading but... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093307)

Let me google that for you, you fucking moron:

reboot
vb [ribut]
vb
(Electronics & Computer Science / Computer Science) to shut down and restart (a computer system) or (of a computer system) to shut down and restart

Derp.

Re:I keep reading but... (1)

anwe79 (1845808) | about 2 years ago | (#40097301)

I think you just missed gp's point entirely, and at the same time made yourself look like a complete asshole. Nice work, no wonder you post as AC :)

Re:I keep reading but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093351)

Journalist ignorance. Whats implied is lean "one part pull" where a machine is used to capacity making parts based on existing demand rather than projected demand. It relies on fixture engineering designed to minimize setup and tear down time with build in accuracy.

I do not believe what is implied to be an accurate desciption of what will actually occur. What is actually more likely is the versatility of cnc equipment is being glamorized. In practice, these tech shops are intended to be inventor cooperatives for former DoD personel to invent the next Ak47 without the expense of maintaining government owned machine shops.

Signed,
Anonymous cnc machinist and makerspace regular.

Re:I keep reading but... (1)

mhajicek (1582795) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094225)

What is actually more likely is the versatility of cnc equipment is being glamorized.

Indeed. I'm a CNC programmer in a shop currently making components for die casting. If management told us to we could just as easily be making tank, helicopter, or rifle parts tomorrow. CNC machines are general purpose by nature.

Re:I keep reading but... (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094723)

Now combine several different forms of CNC machines, (with different cuttings heads for materials)

Add in some robotic arms to move parts around the factory, and quite literally have a 90% automated factory that can produce any physical object and do it in decent quantity levels.

You could churn out anything whenever you wanted.

yep no commercial value there.

Re:I keep reading but... (1)

Tynin (634655) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093369)

Haven't got to the article yet, but in the summary I keep reading...

Then you reboot the software controlling the machines, and out come the parts for the drive train system in a tank.

I still don't get what a reboot has to do with this. Is it running Windows?

I imagine it would be something similar in practice to re-kickstart [wikipedia.org] 'ing a server with a different and highly specialized OS and packages. Want to build tanks this week, reboot all the controller nodes and have them boot the custom tank settings. Heli blades, reboot them into the custom helicopter setting. If you want to make sure that all your nodes are all running the exact same thing, this approach is the way to go.

Re:I keep reading but... (2)

mhajicek (1582795) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094351)

No, it's more like if you want to make a tank part you load the file, tools, and stock for the tank part. CNC machines are general purpose by nature. I've programmed and run parts for medical, military and aerospace all on the same machines one right after another. To a job shop (machine shop that will take work from anyone) a part is a part no matter what it's for. Would you change operating systems on your computer because you want to visit a different website?

Re:I keep reading but... (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093509)

And while we are researching that, can we also figure out why Kickstarter, which crowd funds projects, is named after a motorcycle starting system? I can't see the conection!

Re:I keep reading but... (1)

St.Creed (853824) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094649)

You give it a kick and then it starts. Crowdfunding does the same for projects.

Re:I keep reading but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40094159)

Haven't got to the article yet, but in the summary I keep reading...

Then you reboot the software controlling the machines, and out come the parts for the drive train system in a tank.

I still don't get what a reboot has to do with this. Is it running Windows?

No. That's merely DARPA marketing at it's finest, basically touting that re-configuring an entire assembly line to suddenly spit out totally different MILSPEC hardware has now been reduced to a "reboot". Quality control? Screw that, it's overrated. Re-configure that line and have it up and running in an hour, will ya? Yeah, I know we used to make refrigerators just this morning, but we now make anti-aircraft missiles.

Re:I keep reading but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40096025)

Haven't got to the article yet, but in the summary I keep reading...

Then you reboot the software controlling the machines, and out come the parts for the drive train system in a tank.

I still don't get what a reboot has to do with this. Is it running Windows?

They have a robot to hit ctrl-al-del ;)

Top secret work? (3, Informative)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093313)

Nowhere in the article is any mention that the DARPA employees would be doing TS work.

Periods processing of the sort required to do TS work at night in a facility used by civilians during the day is basically impossible...

We have to figure it out? (1)

EvilBudMan (588716) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093327)

Whether we want a mechanical army which is within reach or maybe a clone army that could fight better.

Re:We have to figure it out? (1)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093355)

we want a clone army, and we want them all to dress like boba fett. and you know this.

Re:We have to figure it out? (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093855)

Clone Army or Terminators. Tough choice.

iFab (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093337)

A top Navy spokesman was quoted as saying "it's Fabulous!"

iFab - oh boy. (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093391)

The project is called iFab.

Cue Apple trademark lawsuit in 3... 2... 1... :-)

Re:iFab - oh boy. (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093483)

. . . only if the factory building has round corners . . .

. . . or does Apple own a patent titled, "A Method and Process for Making Stuff in a Building" . . . ?

Re:iFab - oh boy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40096641)

The project is called iFab.

Cue Apple trademark lawsuit in 3... 2... 1... :-)

The porn industry has announced a reconfigurable viewership model which goes by the name of iFap. . .

Precision manufacturing assembly lines... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093409)

Don't reconfigure at the touch of a button. Even BMW's multi car assembly lines (built by Magna) are only cost effective because they're not reconfiguring them that often.

I think someone's soaking the taxpayer here.

Re:Precision manufacturing assembly lines... (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093499)

"Don't reconfigure at the touch of a button."

Yet.

This will go nowhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093445)

Since they named the project iFab, they will get sued by Apple.

Adaptable factories? (5, Interesting)

wiegeabo (2575169) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093567)

So...a factory that can more quickly and efficiently adapt to changes in demand? That can, instead of needing mass layoffs or closing up shop entirely, reconfigure their processes and retrain employees (increasing their skill sets if they ever need different future employment) to produce different things? Moving suppliers one level closer to being able to swiftly and effectively respond to the economic climate?

And all this research is only going to cost $3.5 million or so?

If they can make this work, and can be spread to other US suppliers, that $3.5 million investment will be paid back in no time in economic development. Hell, if it's a significant enough improvement, it could eventually help revitalize the US manufacturing industry by significantly upping our competitive advantage.

Hmmm... (2)

Fishbulb (32296) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093719)

It's more than a bit concerning that the most flexible, agile, and innovative part of the economy is the military.

Any one else think we need CARPA - the Civilian Advanced Research Project Agency? Preferably one that has nothing to do with the government.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093907)

There is no such thing as 'nothing to do with the government'. You think SpaceX doesnt answer to NASA?

Re:Hmmm... (4, Interesting)

peragrin (659227) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094755)

Darpa was originally called ARPA. Advanced Research Project Agency. The problem is the civilian government kept cutting it's budget because civilians don't' need advance research(see Tea Party and current science trends in America for a scary example)

The DOD worked with ARPA to fund it by renaming it to DARPA. DARPA got to do all of it's cool stuff only now they advertise to the congress critters as Defense so it doesn't get budget cut.

Re:Hmmm... (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097177)

The problem is the civilian government kept cutting it's budget because civilians don't' need advance research(see Tea Party and current science trends in America for a scary example)

The decline in US science predates unhappy people unwilling to pay for it. There are a lot of big "science" projects and fields out there which are fundamentally broken scientifically and economically, such as fusion research and manned space.

Most of the people advocating continued public funding of science have yet to explain how to reverse the trend of declining scientific value per money spent. Best I've heard is to maintain a balance of small versus large projects, but that's only a part of the problem.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

peragrin (659227) | about 2 years ago | (#40098157)

like all things way to much of the money is spent on marketing and selling up your idea to get funding.

While most of what Darpa funds does thisThey also fund many little things that you don't realize you use.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#40098579)

It's worth noting here that these sorts of vague, intangible claims are part of the problem. We could point to influenced advances in say, trauma medicine or the internet due to DARPA investigations, or we could just wiggle our fingers and say what you did. The latter statement is far less verifiable and accountable than even a brief statement with specific claims of benefit.

Having said that, I find even in the best arguments, things like opportunity cost are roundly ignored. A key problem with spinoffs are that they often would happen anyway. And since we went a particular way, it's at best very difficult to gauge how another alternative would have gone.

For example, the internet probably would have happened anyway much as it did. Networks of people were already being tried and the internet has a long history of walled gardens losing out to more open communities.

Similarly, trauma medicine would be developed anyway even in the absence of DARPA funding. There's plenty of civilian demand for better techniques and outcomes.

Also routinely ignored is how much funding has to be spent to get the results desired. DARPA typically doesn't have a problem in this area, but there are as I noted significant areas where money is spent poorly. Effectiveness of funding needs to be an important part of anyone's attempts to fund science precisely because it is the best measure of how successful that funding is.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 2 years ago | (#40098669)

Any one else think we need CARPA - the Civilian Advanced Research Project Agency? Preferably one that has nothing to do with the government.

Based on the amount of money US companies invest in R&D, I think the answer is self-evident: no, no one else thinks that.

Exception: Google does spend a metric shitload of money [google.com] on R&D, but since their main business is spying on you [google.com] and stealing intellectual property [wikipedia.org] they didn't produce, that kind of calls into question the public benefit of their "research".

Meh. (4, Interesting)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40093835)

Sounds like standard CNC capabilities.

When I was working for Boeing, a decade ago, they were transitioning from fixed jig assembly to laser coordinate measurement driving floor mounted hydraulic positioning equipment.

The benefits were:
1) No more huge jigs. Need to adjust a setting? No need to mod the jig, just tweak the s/w.
2) Eventually, each assembly line could handle any model. Just punch a button and the jacks position themselves to hold any body section.
3) Everything was modular, floor mounted and relatively compact. Union problems? Just load your production equipment into a couple of shipping containers and move it to a more hospitable environment. Any large building with a flat floor will do.

machine run-time and up-front costs (2)

WillAdams (45638) | about 2 years ago | (#40098671)

This does come up against something I've been trying to work out the numbers on:

  - what's the $ per hour figure for running such a machine?
  - how does that balance against the efficiencies of ganging up elements (when possible) for production?

I've begun making wooden cases for my archery gear, and have the tools to do all the cuts efficiently (save for routing out the stopped dado / groove in the end pieces):

http://www.3riversarchery.com/images/Contest2010/WilliamAdamsTakeDownCase.jpg [3riversarchery.com]

It doesn't take long to cut a set of dovetails once one is practiced at it (and one can clamp multiple boards together to cut several sets of tails at a time --- pins need to be referenced off the matching tails and cut individually), and drilling some holes in the right place is just a matter of a template/jig which can be flipped over --- if I get an electric router then each stopped groove is a quick pass w/ the router (once I build a jig to place it in).

Will I be able to make a machine like a Shapeoko pay for itself for straight-forward work like this?

  - how long does it take to mount a piece for cutting?
  - how long does it take the machine to make the cuts?
  - how much clean-up will said cuts require?

I'd love to have a CNC machine to try out, but am still a bit dis-heartened that Shapeoko's envisioned $300 price point comes to $649 for a full kit at www.inventables.com

William

Re:machine run-time and up-front costs (2)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#40098859)

I don't know what the cost breakdown is. Industrial Engineering is a discipline unto itself. But here are a few things to consider:

How many different jig/tooling setups will you need per case? How many parts will you make per setup? The more parts per setup, the better you will be able to spread your setup costs across multiple parts. You should time yourself on a couple of parts runs for this data.

On the other hand, the bigger the batches you do, the more money you'll have tied up in the material in process. This may not be that much for your cases, but for Boeing its a big deal, what with financing costs. Manufacturing is going to Just In Time processes, where parts don't sit around in warehouses, but are ordered to arrive just as needed. But there is some overhead (and quite a bit of supplier coordination) required to sustain this. And that's a cost as well.

The other thing to consider is: How many different versions of the same (or similar) products do you build? If they are all the same, tooling flexibility isn't important. In Boeing's case, the (old style) big body alignment jigs (bigger than the airplane sections) pretty much demand a dedicated line for each model. And if the production rate on that model goes down, that line is idled. And that's a lot of real estate. The flexible assembly system allows them to share a line between models. Theoretically, they can slip a few 747s in between a lot of 737s on a flexible line. So as their production rates change, they can use the same floor space for everything.

I don't know how far they ever got with the mixed production idea. One of the major hold-ups is management territory. Different shop floor managers (and unions) "own" particular positions on the shop floor and its not easy to get the 737 manager to move his people aside aside when a 747 comes along. As usual, the technology is easy. People problems are a bitch. Boeing is well known for not changing things (down to the carpet color in a building) until some old geezer finally retires who was attached to the old way.

Bypass the traditional MIC (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40093891)

I always had this idea that somehow the DIY concept in the hands of frontline troops would dramatically reduce the cost of our weapons systems and result in more effective and practical equipment.

The current procurement process is:
1. DOD compiles a bunch of specs (the people compiling them are usually bureaucrats or desk general, who are always refighting the last war.)
2. Give specs to a bunch of greedy civilian contractors (who over promise vaporware).
3. Then designed by civilian engineers and scientists whose lives don't directly depend on the product.

So it is in a way the blind leading the blind, and the process takes years or decades. We've known just as long that this process is broken beyond repair.

Now if frontline soldiers who are in harms way, have an effective means to "evolve" their own equipment and weapons on-the-fly in direct response to the changing tactical situations. Soldiers are always the best hackers of their equipment, and they have been hacking since war was invented. But it has always been impromptu and crude improvisations.

Supposed there are fully equipped hackerspaces with CNC machines and raw materials close to the frontlines that soldiers have access to. Some of the more complex gear may require dedicated design and manufacturing facilities, but these can probably be handled directly by more sophisticated hackerspaces at the homefront.

This approach may not result in fancy gold-plated bad-ass looking stuff, but most of the effective gear isn't glamorous looking at all. It just needs to be effective, practical, and custom fitted to the tactical situation and the enemy at hand. It will save the taxpayers a heck of a lot of dough.

DC and Pittsburgh? (1)

iamwahoo2 (594922) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094113)

Why Pittsburgh and DC? DC is where all the bureaucrats are and as far as I know, Pittsburgh has no major military research laboratory. Why not put the lab near a major military research organization that does actual hands on research and would actually be interested in using these services?

Re:DC and Pittsburgh? (1)

Widowwolf (779548) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094821)

Probably because Pittsburgh has tons of factory spaces that are completely abandoned and would be dirt cheap..There are probably tons of veterans which Darpa tends to hire there as well as a lot of TechDirt wanna be members there as well. As for your talk of Hands-on research, who better then veterans of the military

Re:DC and Pittsburgh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40095573)

Cheaper space than Detroit? Not a chance.

Hold on while I reboot my browser (1)

ourlovecanlastforeve (795111) | more than 2 years ago | (#40094147)

> reboot the software

*eye twitch*

Put this on the moon or mars... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40094603)

And all of a sudden, you have changed the ability of the place to be self sustaining quite dramatically.

Makes me think of the "Red Mars" series.

Hackerspace (1)

detritus. (46421) | more than 2 years ago | (#40095055)

It's a hackerspace for feds.

Build 21000 flexible fabrication facilities... (0)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 2 years ago | (#40095165)

... across the USA (my modest proposal): http://pcast.ideascale.com/a/dtd/44897-8319 [ideascale.com]
"Being able to make things is an important part of prosperity, but that capability (and related confidence) has been slipping away in the USA. The USA needs more large neighborhood shops with a lot of flexible machine tools. The US government should fund the construction of 21,000 flexible fabrication facilities across the USA at a cost of US$50 billion, places where any American can go to learn about and use CNC equipment like mills and lathes and a variety of other advanced tools and processes including biotech ones. That is one for every town and county in the USA. These shops might be seen as public extensions of local schools, essentially turning the shops of public schools into more like a public library of tools. This project is essential to US national security, to provide a technologically literate populace who has learned about post-scarcity technology in a hands-on way. The greatest challenge our society faces right now is post-scarcity technology (like robots, AI, nanotech, biotech, etc.) in the hands of people still obsessed with fighting over scarcity (whether in big organizations or in small groups). This project would help educate our entire society about the potential of these technologies to produce abundance for all."

Is this legal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40095763)

'The project is called iFab.

Arn't they gonna get sued by Apple?

Maybe the projects at TechShop will improve (2)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#40095811)

I have a TechShop membership, and have spent a lot of time there. What goes on there is mostly not all that high-tech. Most of it is hobby artwork. Some people are repairing cars. Others are making furniture. The electronics facilities are basic and little used. Much of the machine shop usage is by pros from companies nearby that need some machining done.

At times, it's rather pathetic. iPhones and iPads are made in China. Here in Silicon Valley, we have people making bamboo cases for them, and cheap plastic things to hold them on dashboads with suction cups.

Re:Maybe the projects at TechShop will improve (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40096855)

It's selection bias. It's going to take a long time for the next generation of inventors and engineers to grow in to this new opportunity. Most of us who came of age before the techshop business model came in to existence have developed our own basement machine shops for want of such a service. Those of us that already have them prefer the convenience of our basement. But those who do not already have the capability will slowly begin to fill this empty space which didn't use to exist.

Substantial Rework (2)

glorybe (946151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40095989)

Quite a bit of work was done on this back in the mid 1980s. The versatile factory capable of quick redirection came along with the concept of inventory taxes. The notion being that if a factory could convert from making fishing reels to brake assemblies or whatever in a few hours then many product lines could keep going with almost no inventory in storage. It was going fairly well back then but there was an issue with the price of the help needed to keep everything in order back then. That was mostly due to very inadequate computer systems. The machinery involved was also costly but it did work.

And all the pieces fall together... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40096683)

And all the pieces fall together...

The final step in Skynet's domination of humanity--the self-assembly plant becomes a reality, freeing robotic lifeforms from the tyranny of mankind once and for all.

don't we have this already? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40097017)

Looking at what these TechShops do, don't we already have this in DoD? Aren't they called national labs? I think I work at one of these places.

Fully outfitted machine shops, highly skilled assistants, massive computer and software resources, rapid prototype manufacturing and testing experience, field deployments... DoE labs may have forgotten how to do that, but the DoD warfighter labs have been shipping off small batch research-to-manufacture kits to the field for the last 10 years.

Why doesn't DARPA fund me to do this? Because it's ILLEGAL for me to compete with private industry for "research" funding, even though I do this cheaper and with a security clearance.

"The project is called iFab"?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40098565)

Apple lawsuit incoming in 3...2...1...

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