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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

NEW C4SS Study: The Homebrew Industrial Revolution

The entire industrial history series, to date:

No. 2. MOLOCH: Mass-Production Industry as a Statist Construct
No. 3. The Decline and Fall of Sloanism
No. 4. The Homebrew Industrial Revolution

I think this is my favorite one so far. It's far more detailed than my survey of micromanufacturing in Organization Theory, and includes fairly extended accounts of a couple of open-source manufacturing projects (Factor e Farm and 100kGarages) in the appendix.

With the funds raised so far, it's settled that I'll be writing two research papers and twice-weekly commentary this quarter. And the funding of my fellow commentators Tom and Alex is also secure. Thanks to all who donated for your support, and to Brad Spangler for offering me this position.

But C4SS is still $640 behind its goal for this quarter. And that last $640 is important; it will enable C4SS to add more written and video commentary. So if you haven't donated already, please consider doing so.


Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

As my comment is too long to be accepted, I shall email it to you.

October 01, 2009 7:39 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

PML Comment, Part I

You write 'A similar shadow factory movement emerged in England during the war, as described by Goodman: "Home manufacture of machined parts was obligatory in England during the last war because of the bombings, and it succeeded."'

You (and he) should be more careful not to use England as a synonym for Britain. Here, it doesn't just matter because of demeaning the rest of us, it's a serious geographical point. Not coincidentally, England is the part of the island nearest the continent - it is more accessible to invaders from there. For the same reason, factories there were more accessible to bombing (further raids needed more fuel and so could only carry smaller bomb loads, and they suffered greater attrition and had less fighter assistance). With all this, just like evacuees shadow factories were often located further off than England, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (though this was not always convenient).

"Now, at the small-scale level, it is impossible for these relatively small machine shops and machinery plants to manufacture all parts of the tractor. In general, they do not manufacture the engine, the headlights, or the tires, and these are imported from other parts of China."

No, not impossible, just inconvenient. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the split piston two stroke engine as used in the early 20th century Trojan car could be and was produced in small light industrial works - and it used solid tyres that were also easy to make, because it had a suspension to match. Also, headlights can be made quite easily - if you're willing to use carbide rather than electric lamps. And so on.

"To take it in Richard Stallman's terms, 'free speech" only
affects the portion of beer's price that results from the cost of a proprietary design phase..."

You've mismatched your quotation marks.

The OScar is over-ambitious, incorporating unnecessary advanced technology. In my view, so is the LifeTrac, getting non-modularity from actually requiring hydraulics to make it operate (there would be no great problem having them as an output to drive other machinery - if they failed you would just use one of the tractor's other modes, but if the tractor itself relied on hydraulics that raises the base level of sophistication, fragility, etc. that carries the rest).

But there is a place for hydraulics - the water jet cutter (particularly with abrasives) is the poor man's laser cutter. See "Three Forths Make a Hole" for some discussion of how this can be used and controlled - and remember that Forth is already widely available with the right sort of open approach for all this.

"The central feature of the Multimachine is the concept that either the tool or the workpiece rotates when any machining operation is performed. As such, a heavy-duty, precision spindle (rotor) is the heart of the Multimachine - for milling, drilling and lathing applications. The precision arises from the fact that the spindle is secured within the absolutely precise bore holes of an engine block, so precision is guaranteed simply by beginning with an engine block."

There is a bootstrapping sort of issue here. Not only is the precision less than it might need to be (when the need is greater than for engine blocks), successive generations will get less precise. It is in fact better to make separate standards in other ways, then use them as masters to generate working standards. The techniques are well known, but too long to cover here. Also, not every operation can be achieved by rotation; some things need straight lines or even other curves.

October 01, 2009 10:20 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

PML Comment, Part II

"The central part of a car is its propulsion system. Fig. 6 shows a fuel source feeding a heat generator, which heats a flash steam generator heat exchanger, which drives a boundary layer turbine, which drives a wheel motor operating as an electrical generator. The electricity that is generated may either be fed into battery storage, or controlled by power electronics to drive 4 separate wheel motors. This constitutes a hybrid electric vehicle, with 4 wheel drive in this particular implementation. This hybrid electric vehicle is one of intermediate technology design that may be fabricated in a smallscale, flexible workshop. The point is that a complicated power delivery system (clutch-transmission-drive shaft-differential) has been replaced by four electrical wires going to the wheel electrical motors. This simplification results in high localization potential of car manufacturing."

Er... that's not simplification, just substituting hidden complexity for transparent complexity (and more of it, too). It is in fact high technology, not intermediate, and heavier and bulkier as well. It would be better to use gasifiers, simple internal combustion engines, and a transmission combining the Model T Ford's three speed epicyclic gearbox with a simple centrifugal clutch or a Constantinesco Torque Converter made with modern improvements to the sprags, e.g. using phosphor bronze and a V shaped receiver groove to allow shallower engagement. (I can describe an improved gasifier if you like.)

Many of the proposals for using spare capacity are sound, but only on a limited scale; as soon as many people tried it, the fallacy of composition would show up. Not to mention that when enough people and activity falls through the cracks, the powers that be either fill up or co-opt the cracks.

The logistics quoted for making rammed earth blocks are wrong. Two important things are missing: the need for some lime as a binder (and sometimes, for some fibre if the soil doesn't have enough); and, the curing time and covered storage needed between compressing and usability.

The discussion of aluminium refining is, shall we say, unaware of what is involved.

"Boundary layer turbine - simpler and more efficient alternative to most external and internal combustion engines and turbines, such as gasoline and diesel engines, Stirling engines, and air engines. The only more efficient energy conversion devices are bladed turbines and fuel cells."

That simply isn't true, unless you are in a very narrow range of load and power. Both solar sources and field conditions prevent this. Also, on smaller scales (as well as with varying loads) uniflow steam piston engines are better than turbines; I can outline one design approach if you like (but even these were surprisingly high technology). Furthermore, apart from some specialised roles for stationary equipment, power equipment simply can't be used agriculturally unless it is very light for its power, or it bogs down and also damages the soil. That means only internal combustion engines will do.

"Fuel alcohol production systems - proven biofuel of choice for temperate climates".

Wrong, solid fuel in gasifiers is. That's how and why it was used during times of petrol shortage.

October 01, 2009 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wrong, solid fuel in gasifiers is. That's how and why it was used during times of petrol shortage."

LULZ. Now the Mathematician is suggesting we're gonna put gasogenes in our car trunks.

October 01, 2009 6:17 PM  
Blogger Ricketson said...

Hi Kevin,

I look forward to reading this in full. I've only skimmed your article so far, and noticed that you do not address biotechnology. This seems like a good opportunity to make the case that biotech has the potential to be a liberating, low capital technology.

There are two ways that biotechnology can become accessible...and I think that the free software movement is a good model for biotech.

First, engineered organisms can reproduce, just like any domesticated organism. This is similar to how software can be copied and distributed at low cost. As with software, these organisms can be used as inputs to production...ultimately, this may make chemical production literally no more complicated than homebrewing or gardening.

Second is the actual engineering of organisms. As with software, this will always require a bit of expertise and some specialized equipment. However, there are a number of trends that are pointing towards a future where this equipment (and training) will be within reach of most middle-class people.

This article from the economist reviews the developments in this direction:
Hacking goes squishy

Biotechnology: The falling cost of equipment capable of manipulating DNA is opening up a new field of “biohacking” to enthusiasts

October 01, 2009 6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a timely post. I am so happy to meet fellow travelers in the combined fields of homebrew engineering and anarchism.

I recently started a new blog, "Shop Kulture; Why I quit my Corporate Job to Become a Welder." . My idea is to act as a clearing house of ideas and information for the homeshop (homebrew?) engineer.

We aim to help people learn things like machining, welding, metal shaping, electronics, composites, gunsmithing, engineering graphics and math, while by-passing the established channels and gatekeepers of knowledge. We hope to be part of a larger revolution in learning.

No Masters, No Slaves. Smash the State!

Mitrik Spanner

October 02, 2009 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Dave Chappell said...

Hi Mitrik

I'd really like to get involved with your project. I am just starting work on designing a CNC pick and place machine for the population of PCB's with surface mount components. The machine will be all open source, made with easily locatable parts, modular, affordable and appropriate for use in homes, offices and workshops.

It is part of a prject management module that I am undertaking for my degree, and I have decided to attempt a p2p, crowdsourcing type arrangement. Maybe we can throw some ideas around that can cross over our two projects.

I'm off to the pub now, but will drop you an email later.

P.S, Kevin, Keep up the good work

Many Regards
Dave Chappell

October 02, 2009 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just begun to skim through some of the comments and papers of the Mutualist homebrew discussion

No. 2. MOLOCH: Mass-Production Industry as a Statist Construct
No. 3. The Decline and Fall of Sloanism
No. 4. The Homebrew Industrial Revolution

I will admit that I am a relatively low tech type. I don't know much about robotic manufacturing or how to plan a broadside assault against the corporatist welfare economy, but I do believe strongly in the independent shop and the entreprenure. I am interested in homebrew biomass energy, solar electricity, building machine tools to power micro-business. I'm also interested in helping people to acquire skills in welding, machining, electronics, math, engineering graphics, composites (while I learn too). The most important thing is to be independent of the corporate/consumer culture. -- Mitrik Spanner

October 03, 2009 6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Find the following two books in your local public libray system.

1) Bill Mollison's Permaculture - A Designer's Manual http://www.tagari.com/

Even if you chose to work with red hot metal rather than with green biology, Permaculture should be part of your knowledgebase for the following reasons:

a) Teaches general principles that can be applied to a broad range of thinking and problem solving issues. It's like a guru slapping you over the head with a bamboo cane.
b) Your like-minded metal shop customers (see below) will include farmers.
3) Personal use of backyard permaculture is low-hanging fruit (pun) and if you have kids you've got ready source of sharecropping labor.

2) David Blume's Alcohol Can Be A Gas http://www.permaculture.com/

Blume spends plenty of time on the non-farming industrial side of fuel ethanol production. From ethanol plant construction to engine conversion, metalworkers will find endless opportunity for income generation.

October 05, 2009 2:12 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Adam: I left out biotech (and agri/horticulture) because they're really outside the scope of an already too-lengthy study. But I agree biotech is potentially an important part of a decentralized economy. Freeman Dyson and Dave Pollard both argued for using biotech to meet local needs.

Mitrik: Excellent. Please keep me informed on how it works out.

October 07, 2009 9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin & Anonymous

I am still trying to figure out what direction to take with my Shop Kulture blog.

Late breaking developments include my recent introduction to an instructor in the Automated Manufacturing department of the local vo-tech college. He invited me to be an unofficial student in the manual machining class (metalworking lathe and milling machine mostly. I've already attended my first session. The fascinating thing is that while I am a registered student at the institution, I am not registered for the class, nor have I paid any tuition for it. I am going to continue the instruction on the machines and consider pursuing some of the training in Computer Numerical Control and robotics.

Permaculture is great. I'm for decentralizing technologies that free people from institutional domination and wage slavery. Homegrown biofuels are very interesting, vegetable oil in particular and ethanol less so. If algae based veg oil can be made into a viable do-it-yourself project, and biodiesel from that, my gearhead tendency would be satisfied. -- Mitrik

October 30, 2009 8:37 PM  
Blogger TheMediumDog said...

You have probably already seen this, but in case not - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091110071535.htm details a replicator working in metal.

The problem is that a vacuum/electron beam aren't going to come cheap, or be amenable to amateur engineering. Correct me on that, but I doubt it.

And I think this instances a wider truth: homebrew can't to hi-tech, at least not beyond a certain point. You'll point to small-scale hi-tech manufacturers all over the place. But homebrew and small scale are different beasts...unless I'm misconstruing your position.

November 11, 2009 11:17 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Some good points, MediumDog. You're correct that some forms of production require capital-intensive methods and large scale. Microchip foundries are likely to fall into that category for some time to come. But that will constitute a much smaller portion of the economy.

November 12, 2009 10:00 AM  

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